Posted July 12, 20209:35 am
Ohio was early to close schools, restaurants, and nonessential businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the virus is still a major threat, and the economy may not fully recover until we have a vaccine. In the span of one month this spring, 855,197 Ohioans had submitted new unemployment applications. Families that can’t afford rent are doubling and tripling up in homes at a time when social distancing is advised for all of our health.
This is why social safety net programs are vital: We need them to safeguard the efficacy of the public health response. Beyond that, these programs address the most basic of human needs; they ensure that people can eat, get their medicine, and have a roof over their heads. Examples of such programs include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps); Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC); Medicaid; and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
While there is no doubt that state and local budgets are facing challenges, it is important that the most vulnerable among us do not bear the brunt of this economic crisis.
Some issues to consider:
Avoid Medicaid cuts: Gov. Mike DeWine recently announced that the state’s Medicaid budget would be cut, but gave no clear indication as to where the cuts would come from. It is hard to believe that this reduction in spending on health care will not result in inadequate care or inaccessible treatment. The pandemic’s economic impact expanded the pool of Medicaid-eligible Ohioans. And given a global health crisis and the racial health inequities it has laid bare, further cuts to Medicaid are inconceivable.
Make use of PRC funds: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a federal program that has been administered through public assistance block grants to the states since 1996. Ohio receives $727 million per year, and matches those funds with more than $400 million in state dollars. A portion of TANF funds is designated to be used for Prevention, Retention, and Contingency (PRC) programs, which are designed to address emergent, one-time costs that will help families regain economic stability.
COVID-19 has created the exact circumstances PRC funds were designed to address. Accordingly, states have funneled more TANF dollars into PRC funds and are making these funds available to people in need. In Ohio, each county received an amount of PRC funds to distribute to residents who qualify. Just 24 hours after Franklin County began offering one-time $500 assistance checks, all of the money had been exhausted. Hamilton County also expended its $3 million in the first day funds were available.
Cuyahoga County received $1.6 million in emergency PRC funds; these have not been distributed as quickly, and the need certainly persists.
Don’t wait to act: From our front line at Legal Aid, we see the urgency. A recent client, “Laurie,” lives in private housing with her three sons. To pay rent, Laurie uses cash assistance from Ohio Works First, and her son “Danny” helps cover the rest with his income from working for a food delivery service. Unfortunately, Danny’s income dipped dramatically due to the pandemic, and the family has been unable to pay rent. Worried about an eviction, Laurie got help from Legal Aid and applied for three months of rent assistance. Legal Aid negotiated with Laurie’s landlord, who agreed to accept the late rent and not evict her.
As these eviction and utility moratoriums are lifted, people like Laurie will suddenly face the prospect of losing their home, running water, or electricity.
Ohio’s low-income families made tremendous sacrifices as the state took measures to flatten the coronavirus curve. Now, by shoring up public assistance programs to address the long-term economic fallout of this pandemic, Ohio can take purposeful steps to alleviate their burden.
Timely action to extend fundamental economic assistance will help stabilize families, bolster the local economy, and ensure the ultimate success of our state’s public health strategy.