Supporters of a bill to impose stricter work requirements for adults on food stamps, and limit the state’s ability to exempt recipients in counties with high unemployment, say it will help struggling families learn to support themselves and not rely on government.
But critics argue the proposal is cruel and would create more hardship for families already struggling.
During a hearing before the House Health Committee on Tuesday, Rep. Randi Clites, D-Ravenna, said many people who have a job still might need help.
She was one of them.
"I’m the first person in my family to ever look for assistance from the government," Clites said, her voice cracking with emotion as she told colleagues how her oldest child’s diagnosis of leukemia sent her family into a financial tailspin.
Despite delaying the start of a family until she and her husband were financially secure, "we still struggled to put food on the table because of medical bills," Clites said. Her son is now cancer-free, she said.
"There are people in the state of Ohio who are working, working as hard as they can, and still cannot put food on their table," Clites said. "So putting these kinds of restrictions on someone who is already struggling" will bring additional hardships.
"What is that doing to the dignity of that person?"
House Bill 200, sponsored by Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster, would require able-bodied food stamp recipients between 18 and 60 without children younger than age 6 to work at least 20 hours a week or attend school or job training. The requirement currently applies only to those up to 49 years old without dependent children younger than 18.
The proposal would require those 16 to 59 years old to accept a job offer, and would prohibit them from voluntarily quitting a job or reducing their hoursand, and would prohibit state officials from seeking a federal waiver of work requirements in Ohio counties with higher unemployment rates. Currently, 36 counties, most along the state’s eastern border and in Appalachia, are exempt.
In addition, the bill would expand the types of assets that can be considered when determining if someone is eligible for benefits.
The legislation largely mirrors sweeping changes sought by conservatives but ultimately rejected by Congress last year in the farm bill.
Two out-of-state supporters urged Ohio lawmakers Tuesdayto approve the House bill.
"These reforms will help able-bodied adults get back to work, protect resources for the truly needy, and provide more private funds for children in poverty," said Sam Adolphsen, of the Florida-based Foundation for Government Accountability, which pushed for food stamp changes at the federal level and for Medicaid work requirements.
James Whitford, who runs a privately funded mission that helps the poor in southwest Missouri, told lawmakers that handouts won’t solve problems faced by the poor.
Government aid might provide temporary relief, Whitford said. But he added that it creates "an adverse incentive" and he knows of no tax-funded program that pulls people from poverty. He added that challenging people helps them to help themselves.
"If we do not incorporate challenge in our compassion care for the poor, they too will remain in poverty until they perish," he said, reflecting on his earlier work as a physical therapistwho often had to push patients to do the work to recover from illness or injury.
A spokesman for Gov. Mike DeWine said he has not yet taken a position on the bill.