CADIZ -- Harrison County Commissioners met with Scott Blackburn, director of the county DJFS, who explained to the board the upcoming deductions for food recipients in the county.
"I have an update on the Utility Allowance," said Blackburn. "Originally the state had announced that the food stamp amounts would be reduced by $50 per month however, through negotiations they have lowered the deduction now it looks like the average deduction will be $23."
The Utility Allowance is a deduction to a family's available income that is used when determining an assistance group's monthly food assistance benefit.
The utility allowance allows families who are responsible for paying one or more eligible utility bills to receive a larger monthly food assistance benefit, because families with higher utility bills have less money available to spend on food.
Eligible utility bills are heating fuel (electricity, natural gas, and propane), water, sewer, trash collection and telephone.
"There are four utility allowances: Standard utility allowance: A deduction for households that pay heating and/or cooling costs. Limited utility allowance: A deduction for households that pay two or more utility expenses, neither of which is a heating or cooling expense. Single utility allowance: A deduction for households that pay one utility expense that is not a heating, cooling or telephone expense. Standard telephone allowance: A deduction for households that pay only a telephone expense."
"Federal law requires ODJFS to recalculate each utility allowance annually," Blackburn explained. "To calculate the utility allowances, ODJFS gathers information regarding the costs of utilities from around the state and from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio."
These numbers are then submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) for approval.
The following are the different types and results of the 2013 Utility Allowance calculations:
Type of Allowance Standard Utility Allowance: 2012 Actual $533; 2013 Proposed $367; 2013 Actual $456. Limited Utility Allowance: 2012 Actual $297; 2013 Proposed $301; 2013 Actual $301. Single Utility Allowance: 2012 Actual $65; 2013 Proposed $65; 2013 Actual $65. Telephone Allowance: 2012 Actual $36; 2013 Proposed $37; 2013 Actual $37.
"How will this effect the residents of the county who rely on food stamps," asked commissioner Don Bethel.
"A decrease in the utility allowance lowers the monthly food assistance benefit amount for families that take that allowance," Blackburn answered. "If no other circumstances in the case change, the proposed $166 decrease in the 2013 (SUA) Standard Utility Allowance means an approximate $50 a month decrease in Food Assistance Benefits."
"The result is that a family who received $100 per month in food stamps last year will now receive $77 instead of the estimated $50."
Blackburn told commissioners that thanks to the continued negotiations between ODJFS and FNS, the actual Standard Utility Allowance has been raised from $367 to $456. Subsequently, reducing the average decrease in Food Assistance Payments from $50 to approximately $23 a month. This was accomplished by FNS allowing ODJFS to submit a revised utility allowance methodology. Then, FNS would review and notify us of their decision in time for the January 01, 2013 implementation. "Thankfully, we were notified on November 16, 2012 that FNS had accepted our methodology, which now takes into consideration the following heating sources: natural gas, electricity and propane," Blackburn said that his department was relieved that the negotiations had achieved a reduction.
"In the next few weeks, ODJFS will send letters to all food assistance groups explaining the upcoming
change in the standard utility allowance,"
"If individuals believe their benefits were changed incorrectly, they can request a state hearing,"
the director explained. "However, a hearing officer cannot change the decrease in the utility allowance. That change is mandated by federal law."
Individuals may request a state hearing by completing the form that will be included in the letter
or by filling out the appropriate paperwork at their county department of job and family services.
In other business:
The board passed two road use agreements. Agreement 59-12 between the county and Enterprise Liquid Pipeline LLC and 60-12 with Hess Ohio Resources LLC for 1.8 milles of CR 36 to access their Short Creek B well site.
Commissioner Barbara Pincola announced that the board would begin 2013 budget meetings the first week of December with the new commissioner-elect Dale Norris invited to be a part of the planning.
Patrick Moore announced that December 12 would be the last day to submit purchase orders for county departments this year.