New Year’s Resolutions

In case you missed it, here is my latest column in Update, our community newsletter. It lays out some of our agency goals for 2014. If you are not an update Subscriber, here’s a link to the latest issue, where you can sign up to receive the monthly newsletter:


Like everyone else, I like to make New Year’s resolutions. There is no better time to take stock of your life and set new goals for yourself.

I do the same with our organization. While we are constantly looking at ways to improve how we serve the public, the annual turning of the calendar is a great time to publicize our plans for organizational improvement.

This year, the number one goal at JFS will be to improve the customer experience. We want to make the experience with us as quick and simple as possible. I realize that with the volume we serve – we serve more than half a million people in this community annually – “quick and simple” is a relative term. Still, I would like it to be less cumbersome.

Therefore, we will be working on doing all of the following:

  • Emphasizing answering/solving consumer contacts at the initial contact, thereby reducing the need for follow up contacts
  • Reducing hold times in our busy call center
  • Maintaining statewide metropolitan county leadership in food stamp timeliness and work participation rates
  • Matching or passing our next closest metropolitan county in Child Support incentive categories
  • Increasing our mobile/web presence, making it easier to conduct business with the agency
  • Increasing our social media presence to educate the public about JFS
  • Examining current-day best practices in customer service and implementing the best

Another major goal is to oversee the expansion of Medicaid and the implementation of the Ohio Integrated Eligibility System (the computer system used to process public assistance applications). The expansion of Medicaid is expected to add 42,000 more people to our caseloads, pushing us to over 200,000 recipients, which is one fourth of all county residents. These two projects together will take up much agency time and effort in 2014.

Finally, we are going to embark on an education campaign with the community that details the work we do and how we help this community. I worry sometimes that message gets lost. We are an agency that helps, whether it is protecting abused children and the elderly, ensuring children receive the financial support they deserve, providing a lifeline during times of trouble, assisting with the cost of child care so a parent can work or aiding in a job search. We do good work here and I want the public to know that.

That is our plan for 2014. Let’s make it a great year! 



A Thank You to This Agency’s Important Partners

For my most recent column in Update, our community e-newsletter, I expanded on my last blog post. My goal was to thank all of those who partner with us and ask nothing in return. I could not mention everyone, but I picked some of our most prominent partners, who really help us provide services that make this community a better place to live.

Also, check out some of the other stories in the newsletter, which comes out monthly. We would love to have you as a subscriber.

Thank you!

Operational Changes

Just a reminder on a couple of changes hitting our agency this week:

  • Effective today, the Child Support cashier’s window has moved from 800 Broadway to the third floor of our main building, 222 E. Central Parkway. With the number of people who pay at the window dropping because of online payments, we can easily absorb the traffic at our main location, which is only a few blocks away.
  • Effective Thursday, the agency will have will have new phone hours and office hours to better serve customers and provide more consistency. By moving to 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, we can increase the number of workers here during peak hours.

Thank you for your cooperation!

Rising Number of Food Assistance Recipients Grabbing Attention

Did you know one in six Hamilton County residents now receives food assistance? Hopefully, if you follow our agency, you do. We have made a point of keeping people educated on this growing trend. The Cincinnati Enquirer published an article recently that brought it to the attention of many others.

I talk about it in this month’s issue of Update, our community newsletter. Check it out here, along with stories about child support visits, an adoption luau and other topics. Thanks for reading!

JFS Consumers Getting Speedier Service

The most recent round of state statistics on county processing times show Hamilton County led all metropolitan counties in processing February food stamp applications, with an 86% timeliness rate.

As you will recall, we had trouble processing new applications and re-applications this summer due to growing caseloads, changes in state policy and budget constraints. We told you we would put a plan in place that would get us back to acceptable levels. The new statistics show the plan has worked.

We not only led large counties in processing all food stamp applications, we led in processing new applications, in processing applications where there had been a break in eligibility and in processing expedited Medicaid applications. We also continue to be a leader in work-participation rates for our Ohio Works First recipients. 

I am proud my staff has invested so much effort into getting  better. We were faced with a challenge and we worked hard toward a solution. We appreciate the community’s patience with us.

This is a good lesson. We have had many challenges across our organization lately.  This is proof that when we put our minds to it and our sweat into it, we can become a better organization. You can count on us to do that.

As always, thank you for your patience and support.

Non-Emergency Transportation Scheduling Change

A small but important item:

Beginning Nov. 1, the Non-Emergency Transportation Services unit will schedule transportation appointments for Medicaid customers only between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon. This change will not affect service delivery.

We are only asking that, if a customer must schedule an appointment, they call between those hours. Thanks for your cooperation.

Helping Families to a Better Tomorrow

Our agency is working with the state of Ohio on several initiatives that will ultimately improve the rate of Ohio Works First recipients who are involved in work activities.

Federal mandates require at least 50 percent of families involved in the program have an adult involved in work activities. Ohio’s rate stands at about 30%, making it susceptible to financial penalties.

Hamilton County leads all metropolitan Ohio counties in work-participation rates. As recently as May, the county’s rate hit 48%. During that month, the next highest metropolitan county was Lucas, with a 34% rate. Hamilton County ranks 17th in the state of Ohio, but all of the higher-ranking counties have much smaller caseloads. Their caseload sizes range from 13 families to 244 families. Hamilton County’s May numbers are based on nearly 4,000 families.

Obviously, this is still below the 50% rate. We will work closely with the state to improve our rate, as we require support from state data systems, assistance with timely state hearings and changes in policies and procedures to assist with this effort.

So far, the state has promised to launch a separate Ohio Works program that provides an extra $10 in food benefits to OWF families that are working. This incentive may boost participation rates. The state is also working with counties to change policy so assignment of work activities can occur before benefits are approved and sanction rules will be strengthened. We also look forward to a new web-based tracking system for caseworkers and an online job search and readiness tool for OWF participants. The state has also promised to launch a statewide information campaign around the topic.

Hamilton County long ago began an intense focus on improving work-participation rates. Hamilton County’s improvements have put it in a position where the state holds it out as an example to others. Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services and the Ohio Job and Family Services Director’s Association often ask the county to do training on the subject and work with other individual counties. Additionally, Hamilton County recently led a Southwest Ohio District Summit on the topic and shared its strategies and brain-stormed additional strategies to be utilized within the district.

Helping people today so they have a better tomorrow is the mission here at JFS. I am confident this is a challenge we will not only conquer, but one where our efforts will continue to be recognized as best practice for all counties.

How Do You Like Your JFS News?

Did you know we do weekly podcasts with news about what is going on at Hamilton County’s Job and Family Services Department? You can listen to them here:

You can access them each week at the top right corner of our home page,

This is just one of the ways we bring you news from JFS. You can certainly get updates at our website, but we also send news out via Facebook, Twitter, our Youtube page, a RSS feed located on our home page and a newsletter called Update.

If you are interested in what is happening at our agency, please visit our website to learn more about how to keep in touch.

Tips for Public Assistance Recipients

If you are a public assistance recipient, you have surely noticed our processing times increase. I want to stress again we are doing our best to help everyone as quickly as possible.

To help the process go smoothly, here are some tips:

— Wait for our call. We could take a couple of hours or even a day or two from your appointed time to call you, but we will call you. Please do not come downtown. We are handling this type of business over the phone now.

— Apply online. Here’s a link: You can also determine eligibility and report case changes there.

— Use our Online Service Center. There are many forms located in the service center that can make it easier to do business with us. Here’s a link:

— Use the public libaries to fax verification documents. This saves you a trip downtown to a packed lobby where you will have to pay for parking and stand in line. We are no longer receipting or coyping documents downtown. You can get a receipt from your local libray when you fax the information.

— Give us 30 days. We are taking up to 30 days to process cases. Please do not call and ask about the status of your case until the 30 days are up.

We are making changes and improving. We will continue to do our best to serve you in a timely manner.

Work Participation Improvements

Through increased efforts, Hamilton County has brought its work-participation rate for Ohio Works First recipients up to 50 percent. This is the federal benchmark and makes Hamilton the top performing Metro county in the state of Ohio.

This means half of all cash assistance recipients are involved in an ongoing work, school or volunteer activity for 30 hours each week, or 20 hours if there is a child under age 6 in the home. The benchmark is half because many have exemptions that keep them from working.

Congrats to staff and our agency partners who helped make this happen. We have long been the best performing county in the state, but it is nice to hit that 50 percent mark and stay there over a period of months.