Archive for September, 2014

New ADA Rules And Policies For Ohio Public Assistance Programs Take Effect On October 1

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) has adopted new Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) rules and policies governing the administration of the Ohio Works First (OWF) cash assistance program, Food Stamps, and other public assistance programs for low-income Ohioans. These new rules and policies apply both to ODJFS and the county Departments of Job and Family Services that actually administer the programs.

These ADA rules and policies address longstanding problems regarding the treatment of persons with disabilities who seek or receive public assistance. Many local welfare departments have purged persons with disabilities from the OWF rolls or prevented them from obtaining or even applying for benefits through various means, including draconian and unreasonable application of work-related requirements, application barriers, inadequate disability screenings and assessments, and failure to reasonably accommodate applicants’ and recipients’ disabilities. These actions—in violation of the ADA—were driven in large part by pressure from the state and federal governments for the counties to raise their reported “work participation rates” to avoid federal penalties. It was much easier for the counties to improve their work participation rates by cutting people from the rolls instead of providing appropriate services and work assignments with disabilities.

The Ohio legal aid programs, led by the Ohio Poverty Law Center (OPLC), asked to meet with officers and representatives of ODJFS to discuss these problems and try to negotiate a solution that would protect persons with disabilities and comply with the ADA. After more than six months of discussions—including extensive legal research and drafting proposals—the low-income advocates and ODJFS agreed to implement a set of comprehensive ADA rules, policies, form and notices to improve compliance with the ADA and state disability discrimination laws. The new rules were published for public comment and approved by the legislative Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR), and they will become law on October 1, 2014.

The new ADA rules and policies address a number of key areas, including but not limited to: screening for disabilities; employability appraisals and assessments; self-sufficiency contracts; reasonable accommodations of persons with disabilities (including the enumeration of specific examples); hardship extensions of the OWF time limits; and training requirements for county agency staff. They also address certain common misconceptions, such as the tendency of caseworkers to confuse the very different legal definitions of “disability” under the ADA and Social Security Act and to underestimate the broad scope of permissible reasonable accommodations. In addition, county departments are required to adopt (and file with ODJFS) detailed ADA county compliance plans. If fully implemented and enforced, the new ODJFS ADA rules and the mandatory county ADA compliance plan should benefit persons with disabilities seeking public assistance by: (1) ensuring that persons with disabilities are given more appropriate services and work assignments so that they can attain greater economic self-sufficiency; and (2) ending or reducing the practice of sanctioning public assistance recipients for failing to comply with inappropriate or impossible work assignments that do not take account of their disabilities.

OPLC and the Ohio legal aid programs will monitor the implementation of the new ADA rules and policies. In the meantime, anyone with questions regarding the new ADA rule and policies should feel free to contact attorney Michael Smalz of the Ohio Poverty Law Center at (614) 221-7201 or msmalz@ohiopovertylaw.org.

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Changes to Ohio Protection Order Law Take Effect on September 17, 2014

House Bill 309 (HB 309) makes several important changes to Ohio protection order laws and brings Ohio law into compliance with the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). HB 309 became law on September 17, 2014. As a result, Ohio no longer faces the possible loss of more than $8 million per year in federal VAWA funding. These changes to Ohio law should also benefit many victims of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, or juvenile violence who seek protection orders from Ohio courts. Notably, these changes apply to all types of protection orders, including but not limited to, domestic violence civil protection orders, civil stalking protection orders, civil sexually oriented offense protection orders, juvenile protection orders, criminal protection orders and temporary protection orders.

Specifically, HB 309 prohibits any court, sheriff’s office, or other state or local unit of government from charging a victim who files for a protection order any fee, cost or deposit in connection with the modification, enforcement, dismissal, or withdrawal of a protection order or consent agreement. In addition, the new law prohibits any court, sheriff’s office, or other unit of state or local government from charging a victim who files a petition or motion for a protection order any fee, cost or deposit in connection with the filing, issuance, registration, modification, enforcement, dismissal, withdrawal or service of a witness subpoena. Existing law already prohibited courts or other governmental units from charging any fees, costs or deposits in connection with the filing or service of protection orders or related petitions and motions, but victims were sometimes charged fees or costs when they dismissed their protection order case, when the judge or magistrate terminated their case, or when they used subpoenas to bring witnesses into court to testify in their court cases. HB 309 closes those gaps in the fee prohibition statutes.

On the other hand, courts and other units of state or local government may now charge the respondent or defendant (alleged abuser or stalker) fees, costs or deposits in protection order cases, regardless of whether the court issues the requested protection order or approves a consent agreement between the parties. Previously, the courts were prohibited from charging certain fees or costs to any party in a protection order proceeding, but under the new law courts will have the discretion to charge or not charge such fees or costs to the respondent or defendant.

There is another significant change that applies to all Ohio court proceedings, not just protection order cases. HB 309 prohibits the taxation of interpreter’s fees as costs to be paid by a party if the party to be taxed is indigent. This provision protects the due process rights of Limited English Proficient (LEP) parties in the Ohio justice system.

The Family Violence Prevention Center Advisory Council of the Ohio Department of Public Safety and its members—including but not limited to the Ohio Domestic Violence Network (ODVN), the Ohio Supreme Court, the Action Ohio Coalition for Battered Women, and the Ohio Poverty Law Center—played a key role in drafting and advocating for the passage of HB 309.

Anyone with questions regarding HB 309 should feel free to contact attorney Mike Smalz of the Ohio Poverty Law Center at phone number 614-221-7201 or at msmalz@ohiopovertylaw.org.

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