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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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Senate Bill Uncuts Fair Housing Law Protections and Enforcement

On June 24, 2014 Senator Bill Seitz introduced Senate Bill 349, which purpose is described by the Legislative Services Commission as “to make permissive actual damages and attorney’s fees, to limit certain punitive damages, to allow respondents to recover attorney’s fees in certain instances, to prohibit actual or punitive damages from being awarded to a fair housing agency, and to exempt certain landlords from the housing provisions of the Ohio Civil Rights Law.” This bill, if enacted, will greatly weaken the Ohio Civil Rights Commission’s (OCRC) enforcement of Ohio’s fair housing (housing discrimination) laws and the remedies available to victims of housing discrimination. The ability of the respondents (landlords) to recover damages from tenants and homebuyers after any OCRC “no probable cause” finding or OCRC hearing would also have a chilling effect on filing housing discrimination charges with the OCRC.

The Ohio Poverty Law Center has joined with a coalition of legal aids and fair housing advocates to oppose this damaging bill. This coalition has created a Brief History of Ohio Fair Housing and Talking Points to assist the coalition, inform the media and the public, and help others who wish to add their voices to the opposition. To summarize, Ohio was one of the first states to enact fair housing legislation, and over the years has broadened the categories of persons protected by this law, most recently adding “military status” as a protected class. The OCRC administrative complaint process allows complaints to be filed and pursued without the burden of the costs of a lawsuit that might be filed in state or federal court. Among other things, this bill undermines this cost effective dispute resolution option and forces victims into costly court litigation. It discourages victims from attempting to vindicate their rights by making them potentially liable for the attorneys fees of those who discriminate.
The Brief History and Talking Points can be accessed here.
Also, for more information, contact Senior Attorney Mike Smalz at msmalz@ohiopovertylaw.org.

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Ohio Supreme Court Will Decide the Future of Payday Lending in Ohio – Or Not

On December 10, Ohio legal aid advocates, represented by Julie Robie from the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, participated in an oral argument before the Ohio Supreme Court in the case of Ohio Neighborhood Finance, dba Cashland v. Scott.  What is notable about our participation is that legal aid did not represent any party involved in this case. Cashland had its stable of expensive big firm lawyers to brief and argue the case.  Mr. Scott has long since gone on with his life, having made no appearances in any of the courts hearing his case.  Legal Aid and our allies appeared as amici, or friends of the court, to give the Ohio Supreme Court the consumer perspective on the issues involved in this important case.

 This case is important for consumers because it challenges the current business model of payday lending in Ohio.  As some of you may know, in 2008, Ohio adopted a statute reforming payday lending, repealing the old business model that allowed short term, single pay loans with 391% APR.  Ohio has never used the term “payday” loans in its statutes – when enabled in 1995, they were “loans by check cashing lender licensees.”  These old loans were eliminated, and replaced with “short term loans.”  The loan period for short term loans must be a minimum of 31 days, with a maximum APR of 28%.

 Despite legislative reform, payday lending continues as usual for Ohio borrowers.  No lenders are licensed under, or making loans under, the Short Term Loan Act.  Instead, lenders like Cashland made deliberate business decisions to continue making payday loans, shoehorning into other lending licenses and making convoluted legal arguments to justify evasion of Ohio law. The Elyria Municipal Court and the 9th District Court of Appeals said Cashland cannot make payday loans under the lending license they currently hold.  Now it is up to the Ohio Supreme Court to say “yes” or “no.”

 But if the Ohio Supreme Court says no – no payday loans – what will this mean for Ohio borrowers?  No more payday loans, at least in this current form?   I wish.  Unfortunately, the consumer small loan industry will continue to flourish.  Even as we await the Cashland decision, cash-strapped Ohioans can get a short term consumer installment loan secured by a postdated check.  Or they can stop in their friendly neighborhood auto title loan shop and walk out with a loan secured by the title to their car.  And all of this and more can be done over the internet and without leaving the comfort and convenience of home. This market, “the financially underserved market”, generated $89 billion in fee and interest revenue in 2012.  This industry is limited only by the ingenuity of its management teams, clever legal staff, and the greed of its funders and investors.

 Under the veneer of industry best practices and superior customer service, the short term loan industry is making money selling credit to struggling families as a means to bridge the income gap.  None of these financial products help struggling families address the underlying problems of chronic income shortfalls, or help families build wealth so they can move up the socio-economic ladder. Despite very credible studies showing that the economic activity generated by this industry results in a net loss to the economy, this industry will thrive until policymakers step up to the plate.

 Stepping up to the plate doesn’t just mean better regulation of the industry and more consumer protections.  Enforcement of existing consumer protection laws and the political will to stop predatory lending will always lag behind this constantly moving target.  Stepping up to the plate means policy makers must address the much tougher issues involved in closing the income gap between low wages and what it really takes to make ends meet.

 The political struggle to expand Medicaid, the Governor’s refusal to apply for a federal waiver to waive work requirements for food stamp recipients, the shrinking Ohio Works First program, continued high unemployment rates and Congress’s refusal to extend Emergency Unemployment Compensation all indicate that Ohioans will not soon see any real shift toward policies that support working families in the struggle to not just to make ends meet, but to make a better life for themselves and their children.

 In the meantime, 46 Credit Services Organizations, 234 Ohio Mortgage Loan Registrants  with 1202 Mortgage Loan registrant branch offices, 32 Small Loan Licensees with 171 Small Loan licensee branch offices, 150 licensed pawnbrokers with 178 branch store fronts (as of December 19) will be in our neighborhoods or at our fingertips to help us get the money we need. As long as we can afford their exorbitant fees and interest.

 

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OPLC releases Health Care and Uncompensated Care Fact Sheets for Ohio Counties

OPLC releases Health Care and Uncompensated Care Fact Sheets for Ohio Counties

The Ohio Poverty Law Center recently developed uncompensated care and Medicaid fact sheets for each of Ohio’s 88 counties to illustrate the benefits of expanding Medicaid on local economies. For more than a year, Ohio has been debating whether to expand Medicaid to Ohioans up to 138% of the federal poverty level.  That expansion would provide access to health care for 300,000 very low-income Ohioans who are currently uninsured and have little or no access to health care.

 For each county, the fact sheets include:

  • the number of uninsured adults living in the county
  • the number of uninsured adults living in the county with incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level  who would be eligible for Medicaid under an expansion
  • the current number of Medicaid recipients living in the county
  • the amount of uncompensated care provided by hospitals

This information illustrates the economic benefits Medicaid expansion would have on local economies by (1) reducing medical debt so that low-income patients and their families can use their scarce resources for other necessities such as food and housing, (2) dramatically reducing cost shifting by hospitals for care provided to uninsured patients, and (3) pumping millions of dollars into county economies and billions of dollars into the state’s economy via Medicaid payments to hospitals, physicians and other health care providers.

For a full set of the county fact sheets, visit: http://www.ohiopovertylawcenter.org/county-medicaid-expansion-fact-sheets

Studies have found that every $1.00 of Medicaid spending generates about $3.15 of economic activity so that this multiplier effect will help to create even more new jobs and businesses in Ohio’s counties.  One such study is:  R Greenbaum and A Desai. Uneven Burden: Economic analysis of Medicaid expenditure changes in Ohio. The Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio 2003.     http://www.ppm.ohio-state.edu/ppm/Medicaid.pdf.

Of course, the benefits of expanding Medicaid go far beyond mere dollars and cents.  Improved health status, extended life expectancy, expanded employability, greater family stability and other personal and societal benefits will eventually dwarf the economic impacts, but the economic benefits to the state and each of Ohio’s counties should persuade policy makers who only focus on the bottom line too support expanding Medicaid.

Please share this information with friends and neighbors and encourage everyone to contact their legislators to ask them to support expanding Medicaid in Ohio to the fullest extent

Let us all hope that Ohio takes the steps to expand Medicaid soon so that all Ohioans and our local and state economies can enjoy the benefits beginning in January 2014.

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Ohio At A Cross Roads: Medicaid Expansion

Ohio At A Cross Roads: Medicaid Expansion

The Ohio General Assembly and Governor Kasich are at odds over Medicaid expansion as anticipated by the Affordable Care Act.

The Governor, a conservative Republican, included a Medicaid expansion in the state budget for all Ohioans with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level. This is the right thing to do for Ohioans who are now uninsured and cannot obtain the care they need to become, or remain, healthy. It is also the right thing to do to help Ohioans become more employable so they can be self-sufficient and stable. It is also the right thing to do for the state’s economy and budget.

Expanding access to health care to address the needs of the uninsured and to help Ohioans become self-sufficient and stable is important, but the last point about the state’s economy and budget is why every member of the Ohio General Assembly should support the Medicaid expansion.

The Medicaid expansion draws federal dollars into Ohio. The Governor projects that $13 billion dollars of federal funding would come to Ohio by 2020. Other projections are as high as $20 billion. In any case, a huge amount of money would circulate and generate additional economic growth in Ohio’s towns, cities and counties.

The Medicaid expansion fills a $400 million hole in the state budget because it off sets costs for mental health, corrections, drug and alcohol treatment and other services.

Read more about the impact of a Medicaid expansion in Ohio, on the Office of Health Transformation’s website, http://www.healthtransformation.ohio.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=vDu4XgXYGm0%3d&tabid=136

The expansion has the overwhelming support of the public, stakeholders and others. Click here to see what stakeholders and editorial boards have said about the expansion.
What they are saying about extending Medicaid coverage: Stakeholders and Editorials

The House removed the expansion from the budget it passed and has said that it will consider an expansion in the fall of 2013. The Senate President has announced that he would support a separate bill to explore whether to expand Medicaid, but it is unclear when such a bill might be introduced, how quickly it would move, and whether the Senate would make it a priority.

In the meantime, the clock ticks on and Ohioans may not get the care they need and deserve, and the state will lose billions of dollars of federal funding, just when the state needs to increase its economic activity and growth. Standing in the way of expanding Medicaid is bad for the state and bad for Ohioans.

The Governor is right. Ohio needs to expand Medicaid now to provide care for its residents and to strengthen our economy. As concerned Ohioans, we should all first, contact the Governor to thank him for fighting for Medicaid, second, contact our legislators to ask them to do what is right for Ohio and Ohioans, expand our Medicaid program now and, third, tell our friends and neighbors to do the same.

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Child Support Bill Likely to be Passed During General Assembly’s Lame Duck Session

House Bill 561 (HB 561)—sponsored by Representative Lynn Slaby—was introduced last May and has been assigned to the House Judiciary and Ethics Committee.  It is on a “fast track” and will likely be passed by the Ohio General Assembly before the end of this year.

The Ohio Child Support Directors Association (OCDA) drafted and is pushing for quick passage of HB 561 in order to address inconsistencies in current child support laws and to bring Ohio into full compliance with federal IV-D rules governing expedited administrative processes and applications for IV-D child support enforcement services. There are significant changes regarding the timeframes for appealing certain CSEA actions or recommendations, the scope of the state income tax intercept mechanism, the requirements for discharging an existing lien on a defaulting obligor’s property, the effective date on an administrative child support order, and the effective date of initial administrative child support orders.  The bill is also likely to be amended to include language drafted by Mike Smalz of the Ohio Poverty Law Center (OPLC) giving courts and child support enforcement agencies (CSEAs) jurisdiction and  authority to lower arrearage-only payments and income withholding after the termination of the current child support order.  This article summarizes the major proposed changes.

1)      Reduces from thirty to fourteen days after the issuance of a CSEA administrative order, decision or notice or receipt of notice the time period for:

  • objecting to an administrative order determining parentage, objecting to an administrative support order by bringing an action for the payment of support and provision for a child’s health care;
  • requesting a hearing on modification of child support by a CSEA;
  • requesting an administrative hearing following a CSEA investigation of a reason to terminate child support; and
  • moving for a judicial determination of a CSEA decision following investigation of a reason to terminate child support.

2)      Increases from seven to fourteen days the time period for an obligor to request a mistake of fact hearing or a subsequent court hearing regarding a CSEA default determination or a CSEA determination regarding the availability of private health insurance at a reasonable cost.

3)      Expands the State income tax intercept mechanism to include collection of overdue spousal support.

Current law allows CSEAs to work with the Tax Commissioner to collect overdue child support; the law will allow CSEAs to recover any overdue support, not just child support, through a state income tax intercept so long as the case is a IV-D case.  (This change will affect cases involving both child support and spousal support orders, but should not affect spousal support-only cases.)

4)      Eliminates the automatic requirement that CSEAs discharge a lien against a delinquent support obligor upon the issuance of a new income withholding or a deduction notice or a new support order.

CSEAs would have discretion to decide whether or not to file a notice requesting that the county recorder discharge the lien on an obligor’s real or personal property in cases where a new income withholding notice or support order has been issued to collect accrued arrears.

5)      When the CSEA issues an initial administrative child support order, the order will become effective on the date of the administrative hearing.

Therefore, if the obligor or obligee appeals the administrative child support order to the juvenile court and the administrative order is upheld, the order will be in effect retroactive to the date of the CSEA’s administrative hearing.

6)      Gives the court discretion to reduce arrearage-only payments and income withholding below the amount ordered to be paid and withheld to pay both current child and arrears under the child support order that was in effect during the child’s minority.

This change should benefit low income obligors who experience a drastic decline in income sometime after the termination of their current child support obligation and before the liquidation of the entire arrearage.  For example, if the child turns 18, thereby terminating the current child support obligation, and the obligor later becomes disabled and his only income is SSD benefits, he could ask the court or CSEA to lower his arrearage-only payments because of his drastically changes circumstances. By contrast, under current law the obligor would be required to continue to pay the same amount, regardless of any change in circumstances or personal hardship, until the entire arrearage was paid off.

The ODJFS Child Support Guidelines Council voted to recommend the last change as an amendment to HB 561.  Although that provision is not currently in the bill, the OCDA plans to incorporate that amendment into HB 561 before it is passed by the General Assembly during the lame duck session.  The proposed language is:

3121.36 Authority to collect arrearage after termination of order.

The termination of a court support order or administrative child support order does not abate the power of any court or child support enforcement agency to collect any overdue and unpaid support or arrearage owed under the terminated support order or the power of the court to punish any person for a failure to comply with, or to pay any support as ordered in, the terminated support order. The termination does not abate the authority of the court or agency to issue any notice described in section 3121.03 of the Revised Code or to issue any applicable order as described in division (C) or (D) of 3121.03 of the Revised Code to collect any overdue and unpaid support or arrearage owed under the terminated support order. If a notice is issued pursuant to 3121.03 of the Revised Code to collect the overdue and unpaid support or arrearage, the amount withheld or deducted from the obligor’s personal earnings, income, or accounts shall be REBUTTABLY PRESUMED TO BE at least equal to the amount that was withheld or deducted under the terminated child support order. A COURT OR CHILD SUPPORT ADMINISTRATIVE AGENCY ADMINISTERING THE CHILD SUPPORT ORDER MAY CONSIDER EVIDENCE OF HOUSEHOLD EXPENDITUTES, INCOME VARIABLES, EXTRAORDINARY HEALTH CARE ISSUES, AND OTHER REASONS FOR DEVIATION FROM THE PRESUMED AMOUNT.

Effective Date: 03-22-2001

3123.14 Collecting arrearage where order is terminated.

If a child support order is terminated for any reason, the obligor under the child support order is or was at any time in default under the support order and, after the termination of the order, the obligor owes an arrearage under the order, the obligee may make application to the child support enforcement agency that administered the child support order prior to its termination or had authority to administer the child support order to maintain any action or proceeding on behalf of the obligee to obtain a judgment, execution of a judgment through any available procedure, an order, or other relief. If a withholding or deduction notice is issued pursuant to section 3121.03 of the Revised Code to collect an arrearage, the amount withheld or deducted from the obligor’s personal earnings, income, or accounts shall be REBUTTABLY PRESUMED TO BE at least equal to the amount that was withheld or deducted under the terminated child support order. A COURT OR CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT AGENCY ADMINISTERING THE CHILD SUPPORT ORDER MAY CONSIDER EVIDENCE OF HOUSEHOLD EXPENDITURES, INCOME VARIABLES, EXTRAORDINARY HEALTH CARE ISSUES, AND OTHER REASONS FOR DEVIATION FROM THE PRESUMED AMOUNT.

Effective Date: 03-22-2001

The Ohio Poverty Law Center will monitor the progress of HB 561 and, in particular, the proposed arrearage-only payment amendment.  If anyone has any questions about HB 561, they should contact Mike Smalz at the Ohio Poverty Law Center, at msmalz@ohiopovertylaw.org.

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