COLUMBUS, Ohio - With efficiency in mind, Ohio recently modernized the enrollment process for some public assistance programs.
However, a new examination of the process by The Center for Community Solutions has uncovered some problems.
Instead of working with community assisters to submit applications, clients in the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) programs now must use the self-service, web-based Ohio Benefits system.
John Corlett, president of The Center for Community Solutions in Cleveland, says with no statewide plan to educate community stakeholders about the changes, there's been widespread confusion.
"We may think a system is streamlined, but it can be very complicated and very intimidating for people," he states. "And so families with children, older adults, veterans, the homeless - they all need to be able to access this system and be able to do it in an easy way."
Many who need help are turning to community assisters.
However, Corlett explains, Ohio Benefits does not have a dedicated portal for them, which makes it difficult to help with the application process.
While defenders say the new system is self-service, Corlett says clients still need community assisters to help them understand eligibility, process correct applications and ensure they receive benefits.
The Ohio Benefits system has been in use for Medicaid since 2013 and now includes call centers and an automated system for case information.
Corlett says it's not a viable option for all clients.
"For people who have limited phone service or have only a few minutes on their phone every month, or whatever, to use," he explains, "it's just impossible for someone to spend 60, 120, 180 minutes on the phone waiting to speak with a caseworker, who may or may not be able to help them."
Corlett argues there's also been a lack of transparency about the performance of the new system, which makes it difficult to truly determine if it is effectively serving those in need.
"They have not shared any data publicly on how it's impacted food stamp enrollment," he points out. "In fact, it's been almost six months since we've had any kind of data showing us what's happening with caseloads and applications and things like that. "
The report encourages Gov. Mike DeWine's administration to make the stabilization of the Ohio Benefits platform a priority.
And it asks the state to enhance the system to ensure that clients, caseworkers and community assisters can seamlessly access benefit information.