Focus on helping the struggling help themselves off of public assistance

Case Management to Re-Emerge Soon in House, Amstutz Tells Advisory Council

An advisory council to the Healthier Buckeye initiative met for the first time Monday to get a briefing on Kasich administration plans for a comprehensive case management system for human services and workforce programs.

While that case management proposal was cut from HB64 (R. Smith) when Republicans re-wrote the biennial budget bill recently, Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster) told the council it will resurface "really soon" as a standalone bill, and could land in the House Community and Family Advancement Committee. House Republicans' removal of the case management proposal was "subject to great misunderstanding," he said.

 "We actually like this a whole lot," Amstutz said, explaining the decision to split it out was driven by a need to mesh the efforts of the Office of Human Services Innovation, the Healthier Buckeye initiative and a recent report of the Workgroup to Reduce Reliance on Public Assistance.

"The look and feel will be really similar; the process might change a little to be a little more collaborative. But not radically," Amstutz told Hannah News after the meeting.

Amstutz described a plan to have county Healthier Buckeye councils work "alongside" the case management system, to foster more outside collaboration and provide supports like peer mentoring. 
"Comprehensive is a big word," he said. 

Amstutz said he'd like to see the legislation pass on the same schedule as the budget.

Lawmakers created the Healthier Buckeye program in last year's mid-biennium review, 130-HB483 (Amstutz), and added to it in 130-SB206 (Burke), a Medicaid oversight measure. Its goal, like that of the case management proposal, is to develop plans to help people increase self-reliance and move off public assistance programs. The House-passed version of the FY16-17 biennial budget further addresses the program, adding money to a grant program and addressing the role of county Healthier Buckeye councils.

Monday's advisory council meeting led off with Cynthia Dungey, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, giving a "Benefits 101" primer on cash, nutrition, child care and unemployment assistance programs, their eligibility criteria and recent caseload figures. 

She and Cheryl Vincent of the Office of Human Services Innovation then addressed the case management proposal, which seeks to develop individualized plans for anyone needing services, and to integrate and align the use of federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funding. It's also aimed at addressing the cliff effect of benefit eligibility, which can leave recipients worse off financially if they find work or receive a pay raise, because the loss of benefits exceeds the gains in work income. 

"The system as it's set up today doesn't have a transition plan for people living in poverty," Dungey said. 

Douglas Lumpkin, director of the Office of Human Services Innovation, stressed the importance of the tiered rollout of the program. Under the administration's timeline, the state would start requiring Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to register withOhioMeansJobs.com this fall, and soon thereafter would commence comprehensive case management efforts for WIOA and TANF recipients, starting with transition-age youth in the 16- to 24-year-old range. Then, with lessons learned from working with the 50,000 or so TANF and WIOA population, the state would return in 2017 to start case management efforts for the much larger SNAP population, which would by then have two years of experience dealing withOhioMeansJobs.com. That website, the state's official job-search platform, is to be the technological backbone for case management efforts.

Dungey said the purpose of Monday's presentations was to let council members see the administration's strategy and then ask them to "wave the flag if you think that we're off track." 

Council member questions ranged from the program's ability to "triage" people with more intensive needs, problems with potential employees failing drug screens and the skill set that will be required for counties to perform the more intensive case management the administration is proposing. 

On that last question, Dungey said the state's plan is meant to allow local flexibility in providing those case management services. While counties will need to select one agency to be primarily responsible for the program and its finances, that agency can contract out or otherwise collaborate to provide the actual services. The state will measure outcomes and provide technical assistance to lagging counties, and could ultimately step in to designate a different lead agency if a county is persistently unable to meet goals.

"What we're going to hold counties accountable for its outcomes," Dungey said. 

Orman Hall, special dockets chief for the Ohio Supreme Court and former lead for the Kasich cabinet's opiate addiction efforts, lauded the focus on 16- to 24-year-olds, noting research on brain development and the susceptibility of that population to substance abuse. Hall has not been officially appointed to the council, but he said he was asked to attend by Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor.

Dungey said that age group's life experiences also overlap with four main factors leading to poverty: dropping out of high school; having a child before age 21; substance abuse; and lack of work experience.
Story originally published in The Hannah Report on April 27, 2015.  Copyright 2015 Hannah News Service, Inc.

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Healthier Buckeye Advisory Council Focuses On Budget Proposals At Inaugural Meeting

A new state advisory council charged with developing local methods to help reduce reliance on public assistance examined biennial budget proposals aiming to move Ohioans out of poverty as it kicked off its work Monday.

The Healthier Buckeye Advisory Council, which was created under the mid-biennium review budget (HB483, 130th General Assembly), spent the majority of its inaugural meeting looking at where the state is currently and where the Kasich Administration would like to go in addressing poverty-related issues in the upcoming biennium.

The meeting came as the General Assembly works on the fiscal years 2016-2017 budget (HB 64), which would beef up the Healthier Buckeye initiative. While the House-passed spending bill doesn't include the administration's comprehensive case management proposal, lawmakers plan to review the language in separate legislation. 

Department of Job & Family Services Director Cynthia Dungey, who led the council's first meeting, said while the group is just beginning its work, members will be cognizant of changes happening at the Statehouse and wait for the legislative process to conclude before formulating its next steps forward.

The director called the advisory group integral to her agency's overall focus on improving how services are delivered to low-income Ohioans.

"We know that the richness of what's happening in the communities happens at a level where people are actually on the ground," she said in an interview. "We're going to be bringing our resources to bear to recalibrate the programs, but the delivery of services for many of these individuals who are sitting around the table, they're actually on the ground and we need their partnership in order to be successful."

The council by law has until December to craft recommendations regarding service coordination to help individuals find employment, revised incentives for public assistance programs to move towards person-centered case management and standardized eligibility determination policies for public assistances programs.

Director Dungey gave the panel of stakeholders and lawmakers a high-level overview of JFS-administered benefits, including: Ohio Works First under Ohio's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, child care and unemployment insurance.

Stressing the importance of connecting people to employment and moving them off of public assistance, Ms. Dungey said Ohio doesn't currently do much to help transition individuals off of benefits. If the state's going to truly help families, she said, it needs to "dig deeper" on this front.

"The system that is set up today doesn't have a transition program for people in poverty. So once they're receiving benefits, if they are doing better and actually get a better job, there is no safety net - you lose all resources and then you really have to figure out how you're going to replace the loss of income." she said, adding that taking better jobs and pay has to be more attractive than retaining benefits.

Director Dungey touted the executive budget's proposed person-centered approach, comprehensive case management system and efforts to remove barriers to receiving and retaining child care.'

Cheryl Vincent, program director at the Office of Human Services Innovation, detailed the administration's proposed $310 million comprehensive case management system, which would integrate TANF and Workforce Investment Opportunity Act funds.

According to Director Dungey, the proposed program model is based, in part, on the Workgroup to Reduce Public Assistance Reliance's recently reported findings.

Council member Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster), who has been the Healthier Buckeye Initiative's chief supporter, highlighted the House's changes to the executive budget and stressed that lawmakers are committed to working on the administration's case management proposal.

"This is all a work in progress," he said, adding that the council needs to determine its role relevant to the workgroup as it moves forward.

Rep. Amstutz said he believes the Healthier Buckeye should in part focus on the non-entitlement side of the issue alongside the benefit-side to help provide more flexible options.

"I like the idea of that really narrow population so we're not trying to boil the ocean all at once, but at the same time I'm thinking maybe planting almost two overlapping approaches: one being available as an elective rather than a mandate or an entitlement requirement might make this thing work better long-term than to have it all focused on coming through the case management door," he said.

Source: Gongwer-Ohio April 27, 2015