I just finished writing my final column of the year for our agency newsletter. I summed up some of the challenges and highlights from 2009. I know it is long, but I thought you might be interested. Here it is:
This is the final Update of the year and my opportunity to summarize the agency’s accomplishments in 2009. I am more proud than ever to talk about the positive things we have done to help this community.
This has been, perhaps, the most difficult year in agency history. Deep funding cuts from the state forced us to re-evaluate personnel, programs, services and much more. We reduced our staff by more than 700 positions. We were forced to shed non-mandated services and cut back on those that are mandated. We prioritized and focused on our mission, our mandates and what we do best.
Yet, through all the turmoil, we helped more people than ever. By the end of the year, about one in seven people in this community – 115,000 — received food stamps. One in six – 137,000 – received Medicaid. More than 14,000 children received subsidized day care. Another 25,000 received cash assistance. In some cases, these numbers are agency records. In others, they are post-welfare reform highs.
We have kept children safe and families fed. We helped the uninsured stay healthy. More than ever, we have been an agency that helps people when they needed help most.
But it was more than just providing services. We found new and better ways to do things. We formed new partnerships. We became leaders in innovation, quality and performance.
This agency was awarded four 2009 achievement awards from the National Association of Counties for innovative programs that contributed to and enhanced county government. Only 500 programs throughout the country were recognized, including 13 in Ohio. The awards received by this agency represent a tremendous achievement and are a testament to our dedication to continuously find new ways to help the citizens of Hamilton County to a better place in life.
Other highlights of the year:
• We launched the Higher Education Mentoring Initiative (HEMI) to help our foster youth graduate from high school and transition to higher learning by supporting them with a mentor.
• We launched a new discount card for prescriptions drugs that has helped more than 5,000 users save $100,000 on prescriptions.
• We had the highest payment accuracy rate in food stamps among the 14 largest urban counties in a six-state region of the Midwest.
• We met the child support paternity establishment benchmark of 80 percent for the first time. This allows for 100 percent reimbursement on federal dollars.
• The Public Children’s Services Association of Ohio chose our own Gail Merkle as Child Protection Worker of the Year and our foster family, Robin and David Steele, as Foster Family of the Year.
• We have found new and innovative ways to communicate to our clients, our partners and the public. We now have weekly online chats about various subjects. Our Child Support unit takes online questions during certain hours of the week. We distribute information via Facebook, Twitter, audio podcasts and I have even started a blog. We have been recognized locally, statewide and even nationally for our innovative communication methods.
Many more good things have occurred at this agency throughout the past year. I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish in the face of drastic budget cuts and the current economic environment. I hope this recap proves we have been doing far more than just treading water and that the citizens of Hamilton County are better off because of services we deliver to our community.
Enjoy your holidays. I wish you and your families a peaceful new year. Here’s to a better 2010!