Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
This well-worn principle forms the basic philosophy of our government’s programs for requiring work to receive public benefits and the accompanying programs that are supposed to pave the way for recipients to obtain paid employment.
But what if you break his fishing pole first? Or refuse to let him use bait? In Ohio, our policies frequently do just that.
Recently, some Ohio newspapers have pointed out that some employers are having troubles filling job openings because they can’t find qualified applicants. It is frustrating that 16% of Ohioans – nearly 2 million people – live in poverty in a state where employers can’t fill job openings.
Here’s a few of the ways in which Ohio could address the situation.
- The federal law that provides funds for Ohio cash assistance program Ohio Works First, or OWF, requires recipients participate in work activities if they wish to continue receiving assistance. Unfortunately, some common sense things that could really help people gain marketable skills don’t count. Things such as vocational rehabilitation, substance abuse treatment, rehabilitative health and mental health care, and vocation education that takes more than a year to complete, and post-secondary education.
OWF Recipients would benefit greatly if they were allowed to gain the skills they need to fill the job openings that are out there.
- In Ohio, some work activities are considered “core activities” and others are considered “non-core activities”. Recipients have to engage in a lot of core activities, and their time on non-core activities is very limited. However, things like job skills training and obtaining a GED are considered non-core, even though it’s the lack of these skills and education that are preventing employment.
OWF Recipients would benefit greatly if these activities were counted as core activities, which would allow recipients more time to focus on the things they really need in order to become self-sufficient.
- For most people, there is more than one reason they are unemployed. They might have health problems, or a lack of skills, or any of a number of barriers. For those that receive OWF, it is a county caseworker, not a workforce professional, who has the task of helping that person become self-sufficient.
Ohio asks a lot of its caseworkers, and the caseworkers try hard, but they simply lack the skills, time, and training needed to help most people find a path to meaningful employment. OWF recipients would benefit if Job and Family Services was able to coordinate with the WIA and WIOA boards to get the assistance of career pathways counselors for OWF recipients.
- For most unemployed, figuring out how to overcome their multiple barriers is a time intensive process. It requires considering a person’s employment history, education level, and mental and physical well-being. Doing all of this is both time and resource intensive. For example, it often takes up to 8 hours and costs $749.00 to do it well.
Even though it is costly, not doing a good job in making these assessments means it is less likely that the recipient will get the help they truly need.
- In Ohio, there are also Prevention, Retention, and Contingency (“PRC”) programs. These programs help individuals with one time problems that arise that, if not fixed, could lead to them losing their job. For example, a PRC program might give someone the money they need to fix her car so that she doesn’t miss work and lose her job. Giving her $150.00 to fix her car could keep her from becoming dependent on food stamps and OWF.
Unfortunately, due to budgetary issues, PRC programs do not have much funding, and some counties in Ohio no longer have such programs. Ohioans would be better able to keep their jobs if disaster strikes if there were PRC funds available.
- Lastly, there is no question that drugs and alcohol are sometimes a barrier to employment. If drug treatment was easily available for people, then those who suffer from addiction could more easily get the help they need and get back to work.