A few weeks ago, John Kasich upbraided his fellow Republicans for appearing to wage “a war on the poor.” The governor went on the offensive, with regard to Medicaid: “When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor.”
To no surprise, critics of his stance on food assistance for some unemployed Ohioans are holding him to his words. And for good reason. The governor’s refusal to apply for a statewide waiver for food benefits runs counter to the case he rightly makes for compassion toward the poor when the state economy remains wobbly.
Federal welfare laws in 1996 restricted food assistance for unemployed adults who do not have dependents and are not physically or mentally disabled. Unless they work or participate in approved job training programs for at least 20 hours a week, the able-bodied, with few exceptions, are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) for just three months in a 36-month period. The restrictions were suspended to ease the devastating impact of this past recession.
The exemption expired Sept. 30. Thus, in January, able-bodied, single adults will receive no help with food if they have no job and are not participating in qualifying activities. But Ohio, still struggling with job losses and hard times, is eligible to apply for a statewide waiver.
The governor has done so, but for only 16 counties. This seems to suggest that conditions are good enough in the remaining counties for those who want to work to find jobs or adequate training programs. Yet there are large pockets of jobless adults across the state. There is no indication that in those 72 counties, the unemployed are not inclined to work.
Ohio’s jobless rate has ticked up in recent months, a clear sign the economy remains weak. Estimates are that 134,000 Ohioans who have no jobs, and presumably no income, will be denied modest assistance with a basic necessity. How will the governor explain that to St. Peter?