March 20, 2009

SOB Alliance Blogger’s Food Stamp Post Leads to Exposure of OH’s New Middle-Class (and Above) Entitlement

FoodStampMontage.jpgNote: This post will stay at the top through Friday.

_______________________

An important story appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer on Tuesday. Here’s how it began (Warren County is adjacent to and northeast of Cincinnati’s Hamilton County):

County: no more food stamps for rich

Warren County’s poor (population) does not include someone with $80,000 in the bank, a paid-off $311,000 home and a Mercedes, members of the Warren County Board of Commissioners said Tuesday.

And if they have to fight the state and federal government over it, they will.

Recently the commissioners learned that this person, with the before-mentioned property, qualified for $500 a month in food stamps after she lost her job.

The Enquirer never told us why the County suddenly became motivated to do what it did.

Here’s why (and how typical it is that the Enquirer either doesn’t know this, or refused to give credit where due).

Someone who is “a source in the business” e-mailed State of Ohio Blogger Alliance founder Matt Hurley of Weapons of Mass Discussion. Matt put up a memorable post on March 13 containing the text of that e-mail:

Subject: Food Stamp Case

One of the workers here just approved an ongoing food stamp case where the family have over $80,000 in bank, own a 2001 Toyota and 2006 Mercedes Benz, and a $311,000 home that is paid for. Monthly benefits of over $500 in FS, received over $300 in expedited.

3 household members–husband, wife and child. Wife recently lost job, husband receives SS benefits.

THERE’S SOMETHING BAD WRONG WITH THIS PROGRAM THAT ALLOWS A FAMILY THAT KIND OF RESOURCES AND STILL GET FOOD STAMPS.

This is where things have gotten to. I would think the world would want to know about this.

Well, Warren County and Southwestern Ohio certainly found out.

Since then, what Matt and his e-mailer started has had quite an impact, as illustrated in these additional Enquirer and other stories:

  • March 18, Enquirer — “Food stamps for well-off ‘offensive’”
  • March 18, Dayton Daily News — “State rep wants to put stop to food stamps to rich policy”
  • March 19, Enquirer — “Legislator seeks food stamp change”
  • March 19, Enquirer — “More critics blasting food stamp policy”
  • March 19, AP at MSNBC via NBC4 in Columbus — “Food Stamp Rules Called ‘Offensive’”
  • March 20 Oxford (OH) Press — “Butler County (north of Cincinnati) also seeks to limit food stamps to truly needy”
  • ABC Channel 13 in Toledo (video is at link) — “Living the high life– on food stamps” (though there are more incomplete, inaccurate, and misleading statements in the coverage than I can hope to address here)

Only two of these stories are from outside of Southwestern Ohio. The news of what has happened here needs to get out to the rest of the country, because what we’ve learned is that the Buckeye State’s Democratic administration has turned the Food Stamp Program into an entitlement for anyone experiencing a temporary loss of income, regardless of how financially well-off they are. This may be taking place under the radar in many other states. It must be stopped.

Uncle Sam’s USDA’s web site tells us the following about the ordinary asset-based federal rules for Food Stamp eligibility:

To get SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, households must meet certain tests, including resource and income tests.

Resources:

Households may have $2,000 in countable resources, such as a bank account. Households may have $3,000 if at least one person is age 60 or older, or is disabled. Certain resources are not counted, such as a home and lot and the resources of people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

Let’s assume for the moment that the Warren County household’s income for inclusion in the benefit calculations (see Additional Background below) is really zero (But what about interest income? Unemployment benefits? The Social Security benefits? — Ed.). With all their resources, including $80,000 in the bank and nice cars, how was this household able to receive Food Stamps?

The original Enquirer story tells us (bold is mine):

A new rule by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) says that this person qualifies for food stamps because eligibility depends on income and no longer takes into account other “resources,” such as savings accounts, stocks or belongings like cars.

WHAT?!

The policy change appears to be legal; the Toledo TV report includes an interview of a Lucas County official who claimed that the state has the legal flexibility to do this.

But whose idea was this?

Oh, you’ll just looooooove the answer:

  • ODJFS was run until late last year by Helen Jones-Kelley. Yeah, THAT Helen Jones-Kelley.
  • Jones-Kelley was suspended without pay, and then resigned before her suspension expired, primarily because of the state record snooping she initiated on Joe the Plumber the day after John McCain’s frequent citations of the Northwest Ohioan who had confronted Barack Obama over his taxation proposals a few days earlier.
  • It seems more than likely that Jones-Kelley, or one of the several other ODJFS higher-ups who were sacked as a result of the Joe the Plumber database dives, approved the change in policy allowing assets to be totally ignored.

Here’s what’s really infuriating: Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has been pleading dire poverty, even begging his old buddy at the White House Rahm Emanuel for billions in stimulus money. Meanwhile, one of his key state appointees opened up the Food Stamp floodgates to anyone and everyone suffering from temporary income loss, regardless of their financial means.

So what did Supposedly Totally Broke Ted know about the ODJFS policy change, and when did he know it?

Someone needs to ask Mr. Strickland when it became taxpayers’ responsibility to feed Ohio breadwinners and their families who clearly have the resources to feed themselves.

Finally, grasp the impact of this — In an update at that WoMD post, the e-mailer informed Matt that:

When [the] County runs out of State money to give people Food Stamps, we will have to supplement the Food Stamp Account from the General Fund. The same fund that pays for the people issuing the Food Stamps. When the General Fund runs out of money, [the county] will have to lay off the people issuing the Food Stamps.

In other words, the unilateral, state-initiated policy change could cause Ohio counties to go broke.

While at first glance it would appear that high-unemployment, usually strong-Democratic counties (not a coincidence) like Cuyahoga (Cleveland) and Lucas (Toledo) might get hit the worst, it may be that relatively low-unemployment, usually heavily-Republican counties (again, not a coincidence) could bust through their relatively modest food stamp funding allocations more quickly if even a relatively small number of well-off freeloading county residents jump on the gravy train.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

______________________________________________

UPDATE: It should also be noted that Strickland’s people also can’t seem to generate timely financial statements, and won’t have them ready for State Auditor Mary Taylor until at least June. Taylor will need eight weeks to complete her office’s comprehensive audit, meaning that state lawmakers will be flying blind when they try to put together the next two-year budget that begins in July.

UPDATE 2: This question seems more than fair to ask — Was Obama maximum contributor Jones-Kelley or someone else in ODJFS trying to buy Democratic votes in the closely-contested Buckeye State by changing the state’s Food Stamp policy just before the November elections? Remember, it appeared at the time that just a few thousand votes might swing the Obama-McCain race. If I were an enterprising media outlet, I’d be filing FOIA requests for all internal and external e-mail and other correspondence relating to this policy change to find out. Any takers?

UPDATE 3, March 27 (based on follow-up done on March 23 and 24) Subsequent investigation, including a discussion with the Food Stamp program’s Ohio director, indicates that the resource loophole only exists for those deemed to be “automatically eligible.” This category includes, among others, households where one or more members is receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits. That is the situation of the household described in the original Warren County e-mail.

My understanding is that before the state’s policy change that took effect in Fall 2008 this household, though “automatically eligible,” would have not qualified for benefits because of its liquid resources. But in early 2009, it obviously did.

Though the exception is narrower than first thought (by everyone, including SW OH’s media), it still is an outrage on two fronts: first, that the program would allow a household that can clearly feed itself to get benefits, and second, that such a household would even think of applying for benefits in the first place.

__________________________________________________________

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND:

I’ve been following the Food Stamp program for almost two years, since the beginning of the totally bogus “Food Stamp Challenge” campaigns. Challenge supporters have never stopped falsely claiming that the average Food Stamp recipient’s benefit of what was then $21 per person per week (the average is now about $23) is all recipients have to buy food for themselves and their families. Thus, we have seen governors, congressmen, journalists, and others continually try to buy a week’s worth of groceries with $21-$23, when the current benefits table at the USDA’s web site shows much higher figures:

FoodStampMMAtable100108

(I still don’t see how, give the above table, the Warren County household was able to “over $500″ in Food Stamps. But even the $463 in the table would have been $463 too much.)

There are two reasons why actual Food Stamp benefits are less than the Maximum Allotments above. I covered the one relating to resources in the main body of the post. Per the USDA, the other relates to income:

The net monthly income of the household is multiplied by .3, and the result is subtracted from the maximum allotment for the household size to find the household’s allotment. This is because SNAP households are expected to spend about 30 percent of their resources on food.

Share

3 Comments

  1. Proclaim it from the mountain tops. But surely this is only the smallest tip of a very deep iceburg. Sad that it takes fear of exposure to get the right thing done.

    Comment by Conservative Culture — March 20, 2009 @ 4:07 pm

  2. Not unique to Ohio. It’s wide open in every state ran by democrats. Wanna bet that I can’t take a $20 bill, find someone with a food stamp card (in Va) and come home with $50+ worth of groceries. Half of what the welfare riders get is traded off for other good and services (mostly drugs or money to purchase drugs).

    Comment by Scrapiron — March 20, 2009 @ 7:10 pm

  3. This topic has been spread online lately like a virus. I really think food stamps and other government help should be given to those who need priority… the middle-class and upper-class don’t NEED it–they just WANT it.

    Comment by Imee — March 24, 2009 @ 5:23 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.