Report: $30 Million Earmarked For Poor Went Unspent By Counties

CLEVELAND (AP) - About $30 million earmarked for the needy in Ohio went unspent by counties and was returned to the state, a newspaper reported Monday.

The unspent money was part of a $297 million allocation sent to the counties by the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services.

Seventy of the 86 counties that got money returned some because they did not spend it before the deadline, state records show, according to The Plain Dealer.

The money was intended for items such as children's school clothes, emergency car repairs and job training to get people off welfare.

Some county officials complained that the 18-month deadline to spend the money was not enough time to get organized and do it. Some community activists said counties were lax about planning and executing programs.

The $297 million was part of Ohio's federal allocation for welfare. Under welfare reform, some families started to reach the 36-month limit on benefits in October 2000 and state officials set aside a portion of their federal money over several years to help them.

"We wanted to make sure counties had every possible tool available to help families," said Jon Allen, spokesman for Job & Family Services. "We knew we couldn't go back to the federal government for more money."

Counties used the grants to contract with community organizations for a range of services such as after-school programs and rent assistance. The money was available Jan. 1, 2000, and the income limit was about $35,000 for a family of four, or twice the poverty level.

About 3.1 million people statewide met the guidelines, including 3,900 who had exhausted their welfare benefits Oct. 1, 2000.

In Lorain County, officials knew they would have at least $1 million unspent.

"If we could have gotten an extension on the money, it would have been spent," said Natalio Rodriguez, administrator for Lorain County Job & Family Services.

"But by the time we saw what vendors could work with the criteria, went through the bidding process, took it to the commissioners and put the plan in action, it took a while."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)