Target funding to fight poverty

Among the hardiest perennials in politics is “welfare reform.” Always lurking under the surface of policy debates, it surfaces occasionally as everyone agrees something has to be done about dependence on government assistance.

Ohio officials appear ready to launch a new initiative to combat poverty. Critics may argue it is a scattergun approach – but that very aspect of the plan may work in its favor.

Included in Gov. John Kasich’s spending plan is $2.4 million for grants to combat poverty. The idea is to promote creation of anti-poverty councils in each of the 88 counties. They would compete for grants from the $2.4 million.

During the past several decades, there have been tons of ideas on “welfare reform.” They have ranged from providing cars to low-income people so they can get to work to insisting that people on “the dole” be looking for jobs.

In terms of decreasing direct payments to low-income people and families, reform seems to have worked. In Ohio, just 121,528 people receive public assistance checks every month. That is the lowest number in half a century.

But non-cash assistance has exploded in Ohio, as throughout the nation. Nearly 1.8 million Buckeye State residents, about twice the number a decade ago, receive food stamps. Expansion of the Medicaid program is expected to provide free health insurance for about 563,000 more Ohioans.

Poverty seems to be on the increase. About one in six Ohioans have incomes below the federal poverty level.

Obviously, a state economy providing good jobs for all who want them is the key to erasing poverty. But while state officials work on that, Kasich’s initiative is aimed at using existing opportunities to lift at least some out of poverty.

Again, spreading $2.4 million throughout the state may seem to be an exercise in futility. But if the money is targeted to counties where local leaders are coming up with truly effective, innovative ideas, it may help.

On the other hand, if cash is doled out for political or public-relations purposes – as too often is the case with government grants – the initiative will be a waste of money.