ELYRIA — As the Lorain County Job and Family Services strike lingers, residents who look to the agency for key services are beginning to wonder if their well-being is being considered as their caseworkers walk the picket lines.
Sarah Harkins said her family is being devastating by the strike.
Addressing the county commissioners Wednesday during their meeting, the mother of six said she is having problems with her family’s health care and child support payments, things she would normally bring to her caseworkers to resolve.
“People are suffering. My family in particular,” she said.
Harkins said she worries how smoothly the agency is running with roughly 170 employees on the picket lines. Without her monthly child support payments — an ex-spouse has said the agency is deducting the money through his payroll although the funds have not been disbursed to Harkins — she said she worries about feeding her children.
“I can go without eating. My husband can go without eating. My children cannot,” she said begging the commissioners to do what they could to end the strike.
Members of the United Auto Workers Local 2192 have been on strike since 12:01 a.m. Sept. 25 after talks broke down over the issue of spousal health care coverage.
Instead of being inside the North Ridge Road building working on cases that include cash, food and medical assistance as well as help with child support cases and child care vouchers, the workers are on the picket line. They also attend the weekly commissioners’ meetings.
After the meeting, County Administrator Jim Cordes said roughly 49,000 people in Lorain County receive services through various programs at Job and Family Services. With such a large client base, he said, individual problems with cases existed before the strike. Problems were then and are now handled case-by-case with some issues being resolved with clients returning necessary paperwork, he said.
Cordes said the state has stepped up to help during the strike, alleviating stress on the county’s call center and handling Medicaid cases.
“We are continuing to see clients and accept applications during the work stoppage,” he said.
According to figures provided by Cordes, the week of Oct. 10, the JFS front lobby served 782 clients even as the week also included Columbus Day when the agency was not open. Tuesday of that week was the heaviest day of the week.
Cordes provided updates about the workload during the strike: 339 cases in the food assistance program have been authorize; the state opened a phone line for questions about Medicaid in single-parent households and are taking Medicaid applications for single-parent households over the phone; the child support enforcement unit is up-to-date on priority work and sending cases to the prosecutor’s office for contempts and felony non-supports; and applications for child care vouchers are being processed, with phone calls about a day behind and changes to cases and redeterminations about one week behind.
“The agency staff continues to support one another and work the overtime as their schedules permit,” he said. “The resolve remains a constant and when I inquire whether they are overwhelmed and overworked, I am receiving the same reply: ‘I can do this for another week.’ When I inquire whether they can continue for two more weeks, the staff answer is “yes.”