ODJFS Must Share Job Subsidy Data

Dayton Daily News - October 11, 2005
   

The Dayton Daily News

Ohio’s Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) has been making every excuse imaginable to justify its refusal to identify employers that have large numbers of workers on the public-assistance rolls.

The reasons should lead the public to wonder whether the department is purposefully hiding information or has just adopted the bureaucratic, low-energy attitude that afflicts too many pubic agencies.

The department recently turned down a public-records request made by Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal-leaning think tank from Cleveland. Specifically, the request sought records from which a person could learn “the number, by employer, of person (including children and adults for each case) receiving public benefits.” These are records one would expect the state to have at hand. Why? The information could help lawmakers measure the performance of major policy initiatives.

Ohio has aggressively pursued welfare reform. It touts the shift of hundreds of thousands of Ohioans from welfare to work. Are major employers, in effect, shifting responsibility for basic benefits to the state? The answer would suggest a lot about the long-term prospects for welfare-to-work initiatives.

What’s more, government health insurance and food programs operate as a kind of subsidy for employers who pay low wages and offer little or no benefits. The programs enable their workers to “get by.” Arguably, these employers shouldn’t be eligible for other kinds of state assistance, such as tax breaks or economic development aid. But policy makers can’t make informed decisions without information of the kind being requested by ODJFS.

Many states routinely report employers that have the greatest number of employees on public assistance. Sometimes the facts are unexpected — such as reports from Texas that showed a substantial number of employees of local school districts and the state university system enrolled in the state health insurance system for children.

ODJFS’ attitude is no-can-do.

It takes a super narrow view of the public-records law, claiming that the department doesn’t have reports like those being requested by Policy Matters Ohio, and nothing requires the creation of them. Then it argues that federal law mandates certain employment records be kept confidential. Finally, it claims that a recent Ohio Supreme Court decision, which held that home addresses of state employees are not public records, also protects information about private employers’ workers receiving public assistance.

The arguments are unconvincing. ODJFS should be keenly interested in this information. It should find out how other states have developed it without running afoul of federal or state law — and it should share the data with the public without delay.

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