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State stockpiles money while people suffer

The poor people of Ohio aren't quite poor enough yet. And those who are poor can just keep right on paying us. We'll watch their money for them. We know how best to spend it, or in this case, save it.

That's the message we read into an astonishing fact uncovered by a Cleveland newspaper and published this week: The Ohio Department of Jobs & Family Services has almost $600 million hidden under its budget mattress.

The kicker is that the agency has not earmarked the money for any particular use.

The $599 million surplus in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program actually grew some $168 million last year, the newspaper reported, even though the state's poverty rate rose a full percentage point during that same time period. So the state became more poor, but the pool of cash to help people got a little larger.

That amount represents nearly half of the $1.14 billion the state has squirreled away for poverty assistance. The remainder is actually earmarked for specific programs.

By the way, now might be a good place to remind you that's $599 million of Ohio taxpayer money, in case you've let that little part slip from your mind.

If the state was flush with cash and the agency could prove that all of the needs of Ohio's impoverished citizens were being met, we'd say, "OK, let's keep some cash on hand for the proverbial rainy day."

But Ohio is neither cash flush nor can we say the most poor among us have improved significantly lately.

In fact, for the last several years, Ohio has been in a tremendous budget crunch. We've cut programs; we've scared the hell out of nursing home residents who believed their benefits would be slashed if the state's budget woes worsened and all the while ODJFS has been burying stockpiles of money in the backyard.

We cannot help but believe that somewhere in the state, impoverished people could have found a use for those funds. If, as some at ODJFS have alleged, some counties do not have programs eligible to spend the TANF money, let's put our heads together and find a way to help them generate appropriate programs.

When will folks in Columbus start using some common sense and start treating taxpayer's money with the importance it deserves?

As if the investment scandal wasn't bad enough, now we find out that the left arm of the state government behemoth was saving funds for no purpose while the right arm was "investing" money under skeptical means.

Meanwhile, the poor keep getting poorer and the rich (or even those just keeping their heads above water) just keep paying taxes.

Ohioans deserve to know their hard-earned money is being handled more carefully.