(New Philadelphia, Ohio) – A local Job & Family Services agency is announcing they are no longer offering an annual Back to School Program.
David Haverfield, Director of Tuscarawas County Job & Family Services confirmed the agency will not move forward with their annual back to school program ahead of the 2018-2019 school year. The program had been offered for the past three years to provide families and children in need of things like clothing shoes, and back to school items.
Haverfield explained that they met some controversy during the first year of the program where he said the agency was extremely generous and supplied participants with “pretty sizeable” vouchers to Walmart. “We got a little bit of pushback from the community. People were upset, ‘why are you giving people this kind of money, they don’t need that much.’ Program guidelines were also looser than maybe they should have been.”
The second year they hosted a smaller program where they partnered with Shoe Sensation at New Towne Mall. Last year they worked with both Shoe Sensation and Kohls to offer a slightly larger program and ran into additional issues. “Quite frankly, it became a challenge for us,” said Haverfield. “We ended up at Kohls because people did not show up on the day they were supposed to come, Kohls became overwhelmed, and we had a least three separate people that were charged with shoplifting when they were getting free goods there.”
Haverfield also pointed to funding as a reason for their decision to end the program. “Of funding is very complicated,” he explained. “We get TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) funds from the government and would often get way more than we can use and if we don’t spend it by the end of the year it gets sent back to the government.” He added that rather than seeing the funds go back to the government, they launched the back to school program as a way to utilize the money locally.
However; Haverfield indicated that while the state did not tell them they could not continue with the program, it was suggested it created some concern and state officials weren’t necessarily excited about the money being used that way.
Program changes are another area Haverfield noted as a reason for ending the annual back to school program. “We made some changes in our PRC (Prevention, Retention, and Contingency) program so that we were able to spend the TANF money a little differently to sort of help families in crisis, to stabilize them so we don’t have kids coming to foster care,” he said. “So we don’t really have the surplus of money at this point.”
He added that the PRC program also includes a piece similar to the back to school program they are ending. “There is some ability to help with clothing and things like that. It’s still in the program, we’re just not doing the big public program where we’re giving vouchers out to close to 1,000 people this year.”
Haverfield also indicated JFS is in current conversation with Shoe Sensation about still holding a scaled-down program to offer new shoes to kids heading back to school but noted it all comes down to the money available to spend on it.
There are additional programs in Tuscarawas County that still offer back to school charity events to provide to families in need such as Dress a Child as well as privately-established programs. Haverfield noted that JFS can act as a hub of information about programs like that. “We will certainly try to connect people with resources, we don’t want families to go without,” he said. “But, we’re just trying to make the best use of our resources and put them in the place where they make the most difference. For us, that is stabilizing families and keeping kids safe with their families or kinship providers instead of coming to our foster system.”