Columbus Dispatch, July 10, 2008: Gov. Strickland’s task force tackles problems of poor

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Thursday, July 10, 2008 6:10 AM

By Catherine Candisky


Franklinton’s Pauline Edwards has been involved in anti-poverty efforts for decades and says they have always fallen short.

The tendency, she said, is to focus on lessening the plight of the poor rather than addressing the underlying causes to help put an end to poverty.

Still, she accepted an invitation to serve on a task force assembled by Gov. Ted Strickland in hopes of breaking that trend.

“You still want to throw money at situations that you’ve been throwing money at for years, and that hasn’t worked,” Edwards cautioned the panel at its first meeting yesterday in Columbus.

“If we do that, 20 years from now we’ll still be sitting at this table.”

The 30-member task force will make short-term recommendations for reducing the number of Ohioans living in poverty to Strickland on Sept. 10. Long-range proposals will be submitted to the governor in April.

“He’s looking for a top-10 list of things the state can do, very practical, very executable,” said Greg Landsman, director of the governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

The problem is glaring.

A third of Ohioans are unable to afford food, housing, clothes and other necessities. That’s 3.4 million people in households earning no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level $42,400 a year for a family of four and a level economists say is necessary to cover basic needs.

Less than a decade ago, one in four was in the same boat.

With a tight state budget and projected revenue shortfall, Landsman and others on the panel cautioned that costly solutions are not viable options, at least in the short term.

The task force includes Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and state Treasurer Richard Cordray, representatives from several state agencies, faith-based groups, nonprofit organizations, businesses and labor unions.

During a two-hour meeting, the panel had little trouble outlining some of the problems facing Ohio families: the cost of living growing faster than wages; an expanding class of working poor; too many students dropping out of school; not enough summer jobs for teens; increasing home foreclosures; a growing immigration population; and unprecedented numbers of grandparents raising children.

And what to do? Many on the panel said federal poverty standards must change to reflect the reality that it takes twice the government-set income level to get by.

Others said assistance is available but difficult to obtain because of excessive bureaucracy. For instance, 30 percent of those eligible for food stamps don’t receive them and it can take years for government bureaucrats to process applications for disability assistance, Medicaid and other benefits.

Edwards and another panel member representing low-income families were quick to give examples. Cassandra Lovejoy said she and her son have been treated shamefully when they’ve asked for government assistance.

Her son, who suffers from Crohn’s disease, applied for disability assistance through the Supplemental Security Income program three years ago and is still waiting for help. Lovejoy once waited 20 minutes in line at the county welfare office before inquiring and being told the attendant had left for lunch and she and others waiting for help should join another lengthy line.

“People that clearly need help need to be able to get it,” Edwards said. “It must be accessible.”

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