U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown sat down with the heads of local social service agencies Wednesday to learn how government budget cuts have impacted the community. Brown, D-Cleveland, hosted a 90-minute roundtable discussion at the Medina County Administration Building in Medina.
He asked a few questions, but mostly listened.
“I’m here today to hear what you have to say, what your concerns are,” he said.
Mead Wilkins, director of Medina County Job and Family Services, said his office has been overwhelmed with requests for help from people who have lost benefits in recent months.
About 40,000 Ohioans, including more than 600 Medina County residents, saw their unemployment checks stop coming after Congress failed last month to extend benefits first instituted in 2008 to help ease long-term unemployment.
In addition, an estimated 720 county residents were affected by the state’s new policy, which went into effect this month, requiring able-bodied adults receiving food stamps to get part-time work or job training.
The change, announced by Gov. John Kasich in September, requires adults who collect food stamps to work 20 hours a week or lose their portion of food stamps.
Wilkins said that while families still collect aid for the children in the household, many people are not participating in the work requirement to get their own aid because they can’t find jobs that pay enough to offset child-care costs.
“If everyone who was required to wanted to fulfill that work requirement, would you have enough work for them?” Brown asked.
“No.” Wilkins said.
Sandy Calvert, of Feeding Medina County, said her agency already has seen an increase in the need for food from those losing aid and those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits.
“The food stamps cuts just require more generosity from people,” she said. “A lot of people are choosing not to perform the work requirement, and they’re coming here for food.”
Calvert said Feeding Medina County provides four summer food programs in the county. But she said the agency doesn’t qualify for federal funding because Medina County is too affluent — the county’s overall demographics don’t meet poverty requirements.
“We have areas of the county that would certainly qualify, but as a whole, we don’t meet the standard,” she said.
Mike Salamone, director of Medina County Public Transit, attended the meeting as an observer but was urged to speak on the panel by fellow county agency directors because of the impact a change in how the county is classified has had on the people who rely on county services.
“The census moved us from a rural to an urban county,” Salamone said. “Essentially, we’ve lost over $1 million in funding.”
Salamone said the organization is working to make up the difference with grant funds, but the change in classification has changed the way bus routes are organized and is making things difficult for many longtime users who have no other forms of transportation.
Edward Zachary, director of the Medina County Veterans Service Office, said his agency works with a couple who are both legally blind. The husband, who is a Vietnam veteran, and his wife rely on the county bus system to buy groceries each week. The changes to the bus schedule meant no pickup for them.
“Mike’s working his best to try and figure out how to get them to the grocery store, but these aren’t the only people who are affected by this,” Zachary said. “This man relied on this service for the last 18 years and now it’s gone.”
Crystal Baker, director of services for the Battered Women’s Shelter of Summit and Medina Counties, said transportation is often a major roadblock in helping the women get jobs and move into their own home.
“A lot of the people who come to us don’t have transportation,” she said. “Often they stay three or four months but we’ve had people stay up to a year.
“Without transportation, it’s hard to set up job interviews or go to regular job training.”
Brown took notes throughout the discussion and often asked follow-up questions about specific programs and requirements. He thanked everyone for their time and promised he would take their concerns back to Washington.
“I often hear a lot about a need for jobs and job-training issues,” Brown said. “But it was interesting to see how many problems here are tied to changes in the transit system. That’s had a really big impact on people.”
Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.