Ohio budget bill eliminated cash benefits to some people with disabilities

Gov. John Kasich and state lawmakers last month quietly eliminated a state safety net program that provided cash benefits to about 6,000 disabled Ohioans with little or no income.

The state stopped accepting new applications for the Disability Financial Assistance program July 1 — a change buried in the 3,300-page state budget bill. Ohioans receiving the $115 monthly assistance will be phased off the program by the end of the year, with many not receiving a check this month.

The Kasich administration says the program was intended to help people while they waited to receive federal disability benefits, and Medicaid managed care health plans can help expedite that process so monthly cash assistance isn’t necessary.

But advocates for the poor say most Ohioans in the program will never meet the high bar for federal benefits but have disabilities that keep them from working. Bob Bonthius, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, said people rely on that cash to pay their rent and other basic living expenses.

The program cost $9.6 million last year from the state’s $34.5 billion general revenue fund budget.

State officials acknowledged the “vast majority” of recipients would never receive federal federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in a memo from Kasich’s Office of Health Transformation. Those individuals will be referred to the state’s OhioMeansJobs offices for job training programs and help finding work.

People were eligible for the program if they could not work because of a physical or mental disability, make about $1,400 or less a year and did not receive help from other welfare programs. County job and family services offices determined eligibility based on documentation from a physician.

Disability Financial Assistance was the final remnant of Ohio’s General Assistance program, which used to provide cash benefits to Ohioans facing a variety of hardships. The program was whittled away over time to serve fewer Ohioans with specific needs.

Enrollment in program has been declining for years, from 16,800 in 2008 to 6,400 in 2016. It dropped sharply after Ohio expanded Medicaid to more low-income, childless adults.

The program’s latest iteration was limited to people who had applied for federal disability and were awaiting a determination, which could take several months. If approved, the state recouped the cash issued during the wait time from future federal payments. If denied, an individual could file an appeal and continue receiving DFA.

Greg Moody, health transformation director, said the program created an incentive for individuals to file appeals and continue drawing the cash benefit.

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