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Article No.: 09-7

Article Title: Helping Your Neighbor in a Time of Need

Author: Moira Weir, MSW, Director, Hamilton County Job & Family Services, Cincinnati, OH

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We received a letter a few months ago from a woman receiving food assistance from our agency, Hamilton County’s Department of Job and Family Services. She came to us after losing her job and becoming homeless.

Her debit card for food assistance was enclosed in the letter. She noted that she had been “blessed” to receive our services and had now obtained a job. She was returning the card and the money left on it so that someone who “really needs it” could use it.

It is ironic that in this time of great need, someone so needy would reach out to help others. It reminded me of Depression-era stories and how families would share their meager meals with starving strangers.

It also reminded me of the importance of our work at the Department of Job and Family Services. We are an agency that helps. We are the largest provider of food assistance in Southwest Ohio. Last year, we provided Hamilton County residents with more than $100 million in food coupons. We are also the largest provider of medical assistance in this area. We provided nearly $1 billion in medical assistance to Hamilton County residents in 2008. We also provide the most child care assistance, job training and many other types of assistance that help people to a better place in life.

For more than 60 years, we have responded to the needs of this community. But we can’t do it alone, especially at a time like this. It takes a whole community to come together. It takes a neighbor helping a neighbor.

A walk through the Job and Family Services lobby these days is a sobering experience. More than 57,000 walked through our doors last month. We are definitely seeing the effects of the nation’s economic downturn in our teeming lobbies and rapidly-rising caseloads. I have always heard the disadvantaged are hit the first and hardest when it comes to economic downturns, and that certainly seems to be the case.

Those who have lived on the edge are tumbling off. We have 93,000 people receiving food stamps, our highest caseload since before welfare reform, in 1995. We have 125,000 recipients of Medicaid; this is approaching our highest level ever. About 14,000 children are receiving subsidized child care; this is approaching our highest level ever. And our OWF cash recipient caseload is at about 20,000, the highest level in four years.

Couple the increase in need with our recent budget cuts – more than $40 million in operating expenses in a 5-year period – and layoffs and it equals packed lobbies and overflowing phone lines. We are doing our best to keep up, and we are looking at our work processes to see how we can improve. I hope you will have patience with us. It may take longer to get service, but you will get the assistance you need.

But do not leave it all up to us. If you see someone in need, provide a helping hand. No matter how tough times are, someone is always worse off than you. We will get through this. Together.

If you have questions about this article, please contact: Moira Weir, MSW, Director, Hamilton County Job & Family Services Cincinnati, OH, e-mail: weirm@jfs.hamilton-co.org, phone: 513-946-2111.

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