Last September, a bipartisan coalition of approximately 70 mayors across 13 counties in Appalachian Ohio had an idea: With so many people thrown off cash assistance (TANF) by the state in recent years, the coalition said that the Kasich administration was now sitting on more than $500 million in unused funds from the program’s block grant. So they requested $12 million to help their constituents, some of the poorest in Ohio: $8 million to prevent water shutoffs, and $4 million to purchase essential items like diapers, feminine-hygiene products, first-aid supplies, and over-the-counter medications.
“We’re just trying to make sure our constituents have the safe water and essential products in their homes that are needed for the health and safety of their families,” said Gary Goosman, mayor of the village of Amesville, population 180, and president of the Mayors’ Partnership for Progress. “The state has more than enough resources to get this done.”
Since 2011, TANF caseloads in Ohio have been cut nearly in half, from 99,000 to 53,000 households. The drop isn’t because people are faring better, but largely due to the program’s inflexible work requirement that many struggle to meet when they can’t work, lack needed transportation to get to a job, or can’t get enough hours at the jobs they do have.
As a result, for every 100 families with children in poverty in the state, only about 22 now receive cash assistance—down from 29 in 2013, and 89 prior to bipartisan “welfare reform” in 1996. There are now many more children in Ohio living in households with zero cash income than there are children in families receiving cash assistance. (The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services declined to provide an exact figure.) This is a problem nationwide, as evident in the rise in the number of households living on less than $2 per person, per day: from 636,000 in 1996 to nearly 1.5 million in 2011. Over the same period, the number of children in the United States living in $2-a-day poverty also doubled, from 1.4 million to 2.8 million.