Martin fears Ohio Option will be axed

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 14, 2003

It is an "us" against "them" thing, and one local official fears Lawrence Countians who need government assistance, as well as their counterparts in other rural areas, may be caught in the middle.

Lawrence County Department of Jobs and Family Services Director Buddy Martin asked the Lawrence County Commission and Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Director Dr. Bill Dingus to write letters in support of the Ohio Option.

Created two years ago, the Ohio Option was meant to allow smaller, rural counties more flexibility in using such federal government funds as Workforce Investment Act (WIA) monies and

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Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Fund (TANFF) monies in solving problems for their needy clients.

The thought was that needy people in rural areas such as Lawrence County face different obstacles to success than do needy people in large cities such as Columbus and Cleveland. The Ohio Option solution was in fact the catalyst to the development of the one-stop idea for jobs and family service agencies.

Earlier this month, the directors of the chambers of commerce of the state's metropolitan areas approached the Ohio Option Area Seven board and expressed their preference that the Ohio Option be scrapped in favor of the old way of handling federal monies. A vote to scrap the Ohio Option, ended in a tie.

Martin questioned whether the vote really means anything, since the Ohio Option was created by the Governor and the Legislature. Still, he is concerned that if the idea gains momentum, needy area residents may not receive the kind of help they need to get on their feet and off the public assistance rolls.

"What does this mean to Lawrence County? I really don't have a clue. This thing has been confusing from day one. Without Ohio Option, we would go back to the conventional way of doing things, and I'm not sure that this would mean anymore," Martin said. "In my humble opinion, I do support Ohio Option. It gives us more flexibility. If we went back to the old way of doing things we may not be able to do a lot of the things we're doing." Martin said.

Martin points to a radiology training program at Collins Career Center as one of the real success stories of the Ohio Option in Lawrence County.

Local officials approached Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital about its employment needs, and were told that that medical facility needed more radiology technicians, and would consider employing individuals once they had successfully completed a radiology program. Collins Career Center Superintendent Steve Dodgion said other area hospitals were contacted as well, and indicated that this is or would be an employment need of theirs as well.

The two-year course, began in December 2002 with 18 students. A second class will commence this winter with as many or more students. It is paid for through a combination of WIA funds, TANFF monies and Appalachian Technology Workforce Development Initiative funds, which paid for the classroom equipment.

"Under the old system it practically took a waiver from God to get something like that done," Martin said.

Dodgion said the career center has applied for and expects to gain national accreditation through the American Registry of Radiologic Technicians within the next few months. After that, the program will apply for accreditation to the Joint Review Committee on Education and Radiologic Technology. Plans are in the works to offer the course as an associate's degree program.

Even with letters of support from the commission, Dingus and other leaders in other rural counties, Martin isn't holding his breath waiting for the metro area chambers of commerce to back off their push to scrap Ohio Option.

"The chambers of commerce in the metro areas are a very influential group," Martin said. "I'd say most politicians would buckle under that pressure. I think they're not for it because they see TANFF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Fund) as an open-ended funding source. I think they think its a big cash cow."