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Federal funding for low-income families stayed in state coffers amid pandemic

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Collection of canned food items in a pantry (File photo courtesy of Salvation Army USA West / Flickr / CC BY)

State records show as the state went through a pandemic and many Ohio families lost their jobs, the state’s balance in federal and state funding meant for assistance to low-income families continued to grow.

Ohio receives $725.6 million yearly from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, and the state is required to contribute as well, in a fund called a maintenance of effort (MOE). This amounts to $416.9 million per federal fiscal year, according to the state.

A breakdown of the TANF block grant from the state’s Office of Fiscal & Monitoring Services for the last budget cycle showed steady increases in the leftover TANF funding, from $95 million in fiscal year 2011 to $522 million in fiscal year 2017.

Budget estimates in 2018 put the leftover balance of TANF grant funds at $570 million, before dropping to an estimated $422 million for the 2019 fiscal year.

But 2021 data in the most recent services framework for the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services showed the “sustainability fund balance,” a build-up of unspent TANF funds, with a balance in 2019 of $593.4 million, and an estimated jump to $656 million in 2020. The sustainability fund was estimated to be “depleted by the middle of (state fiscal year) 2024,” according to the framework.

The framework, which sets the stage for state fiscal year 2022-2023, did not account for an increase in OWF cash assistance due to the pandemic, but assumed full spending for each fiscal year.

The March 2021 executive budget analysis regarding TANF funds also says appropriations are expected to go up 1.79% from fiscal year 2021 to 2022, from more than $944 million to $962 million.

Legislative earmarks represent more than $32 million in estimates of the 2021 fiscal year, a significant increase from the $6.6 million earmarks listed in 2020 estimates, and even more than the $2.6 million actually expended for earmarks in fiscal year 2019.

The earmarks, which aren’t specified in the framework, should be “aligned with program priorities and to support children and families as a result of the pandemic,” and the state said the earmarks from 2020-2021 were carried forward into 2022-2023 “to ensure the continuity of care, nutrition and educational support.”

Earmarks using TANF block grant funding were listed in the March 2021 Legislative Budget Office’s analysis of the executive budget proposal. Some include $13 million for the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives; $2 million each for the Independent Living Initiative and the Commission on Fatherhood; $1 million each for the Ohio Children’s Trust Fund, the Children’s Hunger Alliance and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio; $500,000 for the Ohio Council of YWCAs and $200,000 for couples counseling group Marriage Works! Ohio.

The state reported about 10,000 adults and 85,000 children receiving benefits from TANF-funded services. The money goes into three buckets, including payments to publicly funded child care providers, county departments of job and family services and monthly payments to Ohio Works First cash assistance.


This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.


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