Ohio social services coalition praises governor's goals, raises concerns about how they're met

A coalition of health and human services advocates expressed support Friday for the governor's pitch to help struggling Ohioans move out of poverty, though the group had concerns about how the goal would be accomplished.

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Republican Gov. John Kasich wants county social services agencies to take a more comprehensive approach to the employment and social services needs of low-income individuals. When his budget is unveiled Monday, Kasich said, it will allocate $310 million in existing federal and state funds to support the initiative.

While agreeing with the vision, members of the Advocates for Ohio's Future coalition emphasized that county agencies are already struggling to carry out their current responsibilities of helping residents seeking food stamps, cash assistance and other public programs.

The coalition, whose members serve some of the state's neediest populations, weighed in on Kasich's proposals and discussed their budget priorities at a news conference Friday.

Joel Potts, who leads an association of county agency directors, questioned whether pooling the state and federal funding could adversely affect how the offices provide social services.

"Conceptually, we're fine with focusing these dollars and helping individuals move from welfare to work," said Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors' Association. "But I think there's a lot more to discuss to really understand the potential impact."

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The coalition also called for the administration to keep in place an expansion of the Medicaid health program.

Kasich's administration extended Medicaid eligibility in 2013 to cover thousands more low-income residents, as allowed under President Barack Obama's health care law. But the governor needs legislative approval to continue to fund it after June.

Kasich is expected to include support for the expansion in his spending blueprint. It's unclear what form it could take. He and Republican lawmakers have discussed broadly the idea of ensuring "personal responsibility" for those being helped from taxpayer-funded programs.

Col Owens, who co-chairs the advocates' coalition, said the group was open to taking about the idea.

"But we have to be very careful about things that look like they might increase responsibility but wind up being a big barrier," he said.