The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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Reality Check

June 25, 2008

Ashtabula County: A comfortable place to be poor?

Have social service agencies and Uncle Sam done their job so well in Ashtabula County that they’ve created a haven for the disabled, indolent, drug-addicted and/or unmotivated?

There’s certainly no shortage of entitlement programs. Government assistance includes food stamps, monthly cash assistance (Ohio Works First temporary assistance) and medical coverage, something many of Ashtabula County’s working poor can’t afford. Local food pantries, soup kitchens, clothing banks and programs like Holiday Angels Loving Others (HALO) round out the provision of assistance. This past Christmas, about 4,700 persons in Ashtabula County had a subsidized holiday.

Lyn Zalewski, executive director of Catholic Charities of Ashtabula, the HALO lead organization, says there is about a 30-percent return rate for HALO recipients. She does not subscribe to the perception that the county has become a welfare magnet, although it’s one she has heard over the years.

“That’s a perception, and for some people, that perception has become reality,” says Richard Pepperney, executive director of Ashtabula County Community Action. “Welfare is a statewide system. There is nothing here different in terms of benefits. We have some really good programs, but in terms of benefits, it is the same throughout the state. There certainly is a perception, but I don’t know where it started.”

“I hear it, but I kind of discount it,” says United Way of Ashtabula County Director Randy Jones. “I even hear people say there are advertisements telling people to come to Ashtabula County (for the public services). I’ve never seen one of these ads, and I wish someone would produce them.”

Jones says there is the possibility people with low-earning potential would be attracted to the community because of its lower housing costs; otherwise, “I don’t think there’s a big migration here,” he says.

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Reality Check
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  • What it is, how it’s calculated Determining per capita income is a complex exercise that — at best — is a mathematical expression of a moving target.

    In its simplest terms, per capita income is, according to the Ohio Department of Development, “the income of a given area divided by the resident population of that area.” Sounds simple enough, but arriving at the figure is not.

    June 25, 2008

  • images_sizedimage_069195701 Bad vibes: Lack of opportunities, progress make for sour attitudes Eavesdrop on conversations at the lunch counter, in the aisles of Wal-Mart on a Friday evening or around the sports bar on a Sunday afternoon, and you’re likely to hear some pretty disparaging remarks about the old hometown.

    June 25, 2008 1 Photo

  • Finding work after prison nearly impossible A portion of Ashtabula County’s unemployed can’t find a job because of their prior address – a prison cell.

    June 25, 2008

  • County part of Team NEO marketing efforts Ashtabula County is part of a 16-county alliance aimed at marketing the Northeast Ohio region to employers and business investors, many of have never heard of Ashtabula, let alone Mentor, Akron or Youngstown.

    June 25, 2008

  • Some people just don’t want a job Ashtabula County Commissioner Deborah Newcomb talks to a lot of employers, and they all express the same concern: finding people reliable people with basic skills is a problem.

    June 25, 2008

  • images_sizedimage_070212402 POOR BUT WORKING A winter wind blew across the parking lot of the Neighbor to Neighbor Food Pantry next to St. Joseph’s Church in Ashtabula; the six adults lined up at the door turned their faces from the wind, toward the metaphoric concrete wall of the building.

    June 25, 2008 2 Photos

  • images_sizedimage_071213603 County's largest hospital feels the Medicaid pain Perhaps no one in Ashtabula County feels the pinch of subsidizing unemployed or underemployed individuals more than Philip E. Pawlowski.

    June 25, 2008 1 Photo

  • Crime & Drugs Inc. always hiring Some “unemployed” residents find crime to be their best source of steady income. Judge Richard Stevens of Western County Court says he noticed a 50-percent increase in the number of criminal cases handled by his court between 2005 and last year.

    June 25, 2008

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