“Welfare.” In the past, the very word has conjured up negative images of people standing in long lines to get food stamps as well as “stories” of those who were unwilling to work hard to support their families trying to get a “free ride.”
But this year, due to the economic downturn, many people who have never sought help and those who have been off the “system” for years, are being forced to apply for food, medical and financial benefits.
And many are finding that Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services offers more than free food and money.
According to Lucas County Job and Family Services Executive Director Deb Ortiz-Flores, the number of people applying for services is up over last year.
“We are already seeing an increase in new applications because of the economy,” Ortiz-Flores said. “The number of applications from those who live in the suburbs have really increased. Many people who are ‘new’ to the system are citing loss of employment when they apply.”
“New to the system” takes into account the people who have never applied for ODJFS benefits before as well as those who may have received benefits years ago and have had to come back and ask for help again, Ortiz-Flores said.
“Many people are asking for help with food, utilities and health care benefits,“ she said.
In Wood County, applications for assistance have gone up 20 percent per month since May, according to Paulette Stephens, Wood County Job and Family Services executive director. “Up until April, we had approximately 300 intakes a month. Now we are seeing 600 applications a month,” Stephens said. “Our staff really has been on top of it. They are still completing the applications in the same time frame even though we have had double the business. I can’t praise them enough.”
Stephens said that job loss, cutbacks, layoffs and reductions in hours were the most reported reasons that many were seeking help.
“A lot of people lose their medical insurance when they are unemployed as well so they are asking for Medicaid and food stamps,” Stephens said. “We have seen quite a few people who are new to the system.”
Stephanie Kowal, Ottawa County Job and Family Services executive director, said the numbers in applications in the county were also up but, she felt the applications were a mix of people who may have never filed before and those who may have received benefits years ago but have been forced to seek help again
“It really is a mix,” Kowal said. “We are seeing quite a few folks who are new but we are also seeing many people who have not been in the system for quite a few years. Many come to us because of a job loss. We normally see more people this time of the year in the county because of layoffs but there are many more this year.”
ODJFS offers many more services above and beyond assistance with cash and food, Ortiz-Flores said adding that many do not know the extent of services available to them, especially those who have never applied for help before.
“The system is overwhelming if you have never had to utilize it,” Ortiz-Flores said. “Every program has different guidelines but we are here to help people figure out what benefits may be available to them.”
Cash assistance is available through Ohio Works First (OWA), as well as the Prevention Retention and Contingency (PRC) program.
“The PRC program can help with a number of things like rent, car repairs, anything that can help families with at least one minor child stay employed,” Ortiz-Flores said.
Funds are also available for a wide range of needs like the CRIB program for those who need a crib, and voucher programs to help low-income workers purchase uniforms, tools and equipment, pay for child care as well as professional licenses. There is also a GED incentive program that pays a one-time stipend to those who complete and receive their GED.
Medicaid, Healthy Start and Healthy Families are programs designed to offer health care coverage.
The Food Assistance Program, formerly called the “Food Stamp Program,” offers monthly benefits to qualifying families and individuals so they can purchase food. Those who qualify will receive the Ohio Direction Card, which is similar to a debit card, in order to make food purchases.
Employment and job training assistance is also available through the department.
To find out more about the ODJFS or to download program applications, go online to jfs.ohio.gov.