People receiving welfare benefits and those who worry about paying too much for them agree on one issue: the welfare system is broken.
In Ohio, Governor John Kasich—a Republican—has just announced a measure aimed at what he sees as the worst problem, abuse of benefits. Beginning in October, “able-bodied,” childless adults seeking welfare benefits will have to complete at least 20 hours per week working in order to receive their benefits. If they cannot find work, they must spend the time in job-training or “volunteering.” Some Ohio county officials and advocates for the poor say this will take food-benefits away from “thousands of Ohioans” because the recession-ravaged state simply doesn’t have jobs available in the numbers required.
This announcement comes on the heels of legislation introduced in the Ohio State Senate to require drug-testing for welfare applicants. Sen. Tim Schaffer’s bill would institute a three-county pilot program that will then eventually be rolled out to the entire state. In order to get around Fourth Amendment legal challenges, drug tests will only be given to citizens who admit to using drugs in the six months preceding their application for benefits.
These initiatives come at a time when “Ohio’s public welfare rolls are at their lowest levels in decades.” In an editorial from The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, the editorial board criticizes the perception of those using welfare. They specifically criticize a report by the libertarian Cato Institute used both by Ohio and in above-linked article from The Economist. According to the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services “the real value of cash benefits in Ohio has dropped by 20 percent since 1995.”
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It is a troubling problem with no good solutions, but critics say these latest moves serve to punish the poor and not fix the system.