New state office in Ohio dedicated to welfare reform

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published:

NEWARK, Ohio — Gov. John Kasich announced a new state office Aug. 12 that will be devoted to welfare reform, along with a returning director to head the administration’s efforts to better coordinate public assistance programs and help needy Ohioans out of poverty.

The Office of Human Services Innovation, created as part of the governor’s mid-biennium budget earlier this year, will be located within the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Douglas Lumpkin, most recently director of the Columbus area’s Job and Family Services office, will serve as deputy director.

Lumpkin, who headed the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services under former Gov. Ted Strickland, is required to submit welfare reform recommendations to the governor by the end of the year.

“The other day, I was taking a look... and [there were] 30 or so programs in youth and education and training and employment general assistance,” Lumpkin said. “And those 30 programs were just the ones that I was familiar with. ... How do we weave that into something that actually works for folks? And I believe now is our opportunity in both reforming policy and reforming practice and in using technology and doing collaboration — all of those things.”

He added, “There needs to be a level of better coordination.”

Some of the recommendations could end up in next year’s biennium budget or separate legislation.

The ultimate goal is to better coordinate now-separate public assistance programs, streamlining and standardizing the administration of those programs to better reach needy Ohioans, helping them get the job training they need to find and keep jobs and eventually leave the welfare rolls. 

“Let’s figure out some ways to try to coordinate all these things and actually put people on a path toward self sufficiency,” Lumpkin said. “... Families who are in crisis are often overwhelmed by what they face in trying to find the opportunity to get help. We can get better at that.”

Kasich added, “Some people have giant obstacles in their way…We want to help them to get up, because I think planted in every one of our souls is the dignity of work. And sometimes you’ve got to scrape real deep to get way down there to find that motivation, but I believe it’s there. ... If we can get people to say, ‘Our purpose is to lift this person. We will be patient with them, we’ll keep after it, we’ll help train them, we’ll help education them, the business community full engaged in all that,’ we can change all this.”

Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster), who was on hand for the governor’s press event in Newark Aug. 11, said the new state office traces its roots to discussions lawmakers had regarding Medicaid eligibility.

Kasich and conservative lawmakers remained at odds over that issue, and the governor had to use the Controlling Board to gain needed approvals to expand Medicaid.

But part of the behind-the-scenes discussions on that issue related to helping needy Ohioans find and keep jobs.

“Why don’t we start focusing on how we can help our communities help individuals move themselves up to where they don’t need Medicaid?” Amstutz said, recounting conversations with other lawmakers at the time.

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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