LISBON - Some minor changes were made this week to government programs that provide gasoline cards to the working poor and medical transportation for Medicaid recipients.
The changes were approved by Columbiana County commissioners on the recommendation of county Department of Job and Family Services Executive Director Eileen Dray-Bardon, whose office administers the gas card giveaway and the Medicaid transportation program.
Under a program begun in 2008, the JFS provided debit cards to purchase gasoline for those people who are required to have a job or be looking for work in exchange for receiving cash assistance.
Income eligibility is 130 percent of the federal poverty level - currently about $29,000 for a household of four. This is the same threshold to determine food stamp eligibility.
The JFS is the local agency charged with administering a variety of state and federally funded welfare programs. Federal regulators have decided they now want receipts for each fuel purchase, which Dray-Bardon said would make the program a "nightmare" to administer and forced her to come with a manageable alternative.
With the approval of commissioners, the program was converted to a voucher system, with Smith Oil agreeing to accept and process the vouchers. Smith Oil has gas stations in East Liverpool, Lisbon and Salem.
"There'd be a lot of opportunity for abuse, wouldn't there be?" asked Commissioner Mike Halleck.
"I think we got that covered," Dray-Bardon said, noting participants are required to produce a driver's license and sign the voucher in front of the gas station clerk before the purchase will be authorized. The gas station sends the voucher to the JFS, where the fraud staff will compare the participant's signature with the signature on file.
The card is for $25, down from $50 in the past, and participants are restricted to one card every 12 months. Approximately 99 people were issued gas cards between Jan. 1 and May 31.
Dray-Bardon said this program is essential to help the working poor keep or find a job, especially since they are required to work or seek work in exchange for cash assistance.
"We considered stopping the program but there are so many people who really need this" because of the high fuel prices, she said.
As an aside, Dray-Bardon reported they are one of 13 of 88 counties in Ohio in compliance with the federal requirement that at least 55 percent of cash assistance recipients have a job or pursue employment.
The other program is the Non-Emergency Transportation (NET) service, where Medicaid recipients receive free transportation to and from medical appointments and treatments. Medicaid is the state-federal program that provides health insurance coverage for the poor and disabled.
In the past, the JFS contracted with several transportation providers, such as local taxi services and the Community Action Rural Transit System (CARTS), the county's public transportation system. Dray-Bardon recommended for the next contract they go with only CARTS because it simplifies the process by having a single provider, not to mention CARTS has the capability to take over dispatching duties for the JFS.
She said they average more than 2,000 Medicaid trips per month, and the contract ceiling is $850,000.