Calling it “a crazy month,” Highland County Job & Family Services Director Katie Smith spoke Wednesday with the Highland County Board of Commissioners about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her office and the families it serves.
She briefed commissioners on the JFS emergency response program, coronavirus implications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and changes in child protection.
“Eighty-five percent of our staff will be working remotely by the end of the week,” she said, “and even though our lobby is closed to the public, they can still get in the building to pick up applications or drop off paperwork if they need to.”
She that any paperwork can be emailed to email@example.com and that people can apply for SNAP and Medicaid at www.benefits.ohio.gov or can call 1-844-640-6446 to apply by phone.
“We have set up our disaster response program and it does have limited funding and this is for families who have experienced a loss or decrease of income due to the coronavirus,” Smith said.
She said the qualifications were that they must have a minor child in the home or a pregnant woman with no other children in the home, and that the program was open to Highland County residents.
“This is funded for one-time only and families may only apply once,” she said.
Applications for the disaster response program are available at the JFS website at highlandjfs.org or in the lobby of its offices at the Hi-TEC center on North High Street in Hillsboro.
A caseworker would be in contact with the applicant by phone to go over the application, she said, adding that if they were approved, they could expect a one-time check for $500 in the next 10-14 days.
SNAP benefits were being increased to the maximum amount for the family size for March and April, she said, and that if the maximum amount for March was not issued, they would get the additional amount in a separate issuance.
She also spoke of the “click and collect” program that is now available to SNAP recipients, which a news release from the Ohio JFS office said would allow grocery stores that have wireless mobile point-of-sale devices to swipe recipients’ EBT cards at curbside.
Addressing the issue of child protection, she said that visitation between parents and children at the Family Advocacy Center has been suspended while Gov. DeWine’s stay-at-home order is in place.
She encouraged foster parents to allow children to connect via phone, FaceTime, Zoom or Skype when possible, saying that everyone in the local JFS office understood that this is a difficult time for everyone, but that “the safety of our staff, families and children come first.”
“We have gotten a lot of calls over the last month with questions about unemployment, and their accounts or PINs,” Smith said. “We can’t handle accounts or PINs in our office since that is handled through the state. The state is working as hard as they can to process all the claims, so be patient with them.”
So as not to be lost in all the coronavirus news, she noted that the month of April had been designated National Child Abuse Prevention Month, with the #EverydayOhioHeroes campaign in full swing to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect prevention.
Commissioners also had a conference call between county engineer Chris Fauber, and Patti Shorr and Jared Wren of Hecate Energy, the corporation planning to build the 350-megawatt solar panel electrical generating facility between Buford and north of Mowrystown.
The conference call provided the commissioners with an update concerning all aspects of the project, with Wren saying the company is working with the Ohio Power Sitting Board to continue “moving forward,” and that what he called a “public engagement” opportunity was pending at a future date.
Much of what was discussed involved the road use maintenance agreement between the county and Hecate for when actual construction begins, to update the commissioners on the status of the project, and what the company is able to do under the current circumstances that are hindered by the coronavirus pandemic.
In other matters, commissioners approved a contract between the county engineer and Palmer Engineering Company for bridge inspections and load ratings at a pair of spans on Gibler and Sicily roads, and a letter of commitment was approved for securing a grant with the U.S. Department of Labor for the Pathway Home Initiative.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.