c. 2006 Religion News Service
CLARIDON TOWNSHIP, Ohio _ Tim Taylor’s job calls for finding ways to distribute food stamps to the Amish in Geauga County. He might as well be trying to sell them cars.
The horse-and-buggy crowd philosophically opposes the support program overseen by Taylor’s agency, the Geauga Department of Job & Family Services. Accepting public assistance is verboten within the Amish culture. It simply is not done.
But Taylor is under orders to at least try to get them enrolled. The Ohio Department of Job & Family Services has asked Geauga and Holmes counties _ home to the largest Amish populations in Ohio, which in turn has the most Amish of any state _ to lift dismal food stamp participation rates.
Taylor and his counterpart in Holmes County, Dan Jackson, called the mandate a waste of tax dollars, time and resources. In their eyes, the directive is government bureaucracy that ignores the obvious in setting an unrealistic goal.
“No matter how much we do, the Amish won’t sign up,” Taylor said. “It’s not something they endorse.”
But the offer needs to be extended, said Jeanne Carroll, who is deputy director of the state’s Office of Family Stability.
The two counties lag far behind the rest of the state in getting eligible families registered. A 2005 report commissioned by the state found that in Geauga County east of Cleveland, one in five eligible families was found to be Amish and unlikely to use the benefit. In Holmes County, about 65 miles south of Cleveland, it’s almost one of every three.
The state cannot presume that a group won’t participate, Carroll said. Eligible families need to be made aware of the food stamp program and given ample opportunity to join.
“We can’t assume they don’t want the benefits,” Carroll said. “Frankly, they may.”
The state required the two counties to draft plans to lift participation rates. Both intend to launch small-scale advertising campaigns to reach the Amish and others. Holmes might use a billboard within an Amish enclave to promote food stamps.
Alternative approaches are possibilities, too. For instance, participants can use food stamps to buy seeds and plants for a garden.
But no matter the slant, few _ if any _ expect the Amish to take part. The Amish typically shun outside support, said Steve Smith, a researcher at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania who studies the culture. The insular community finds its help from within. Neighbors assist neighbors.
In Geauga County, local Amish bishops strongly discourage taking any form of government handouts, said Levi Miller, a farmer and blacksmith in Middlefield Township.
“We believe that we are our brother’s keeper,” Miller said.
Taylor and Jackson said they’ve both asked the state to adjust participation goals for their counties. Carroll said the request is under consideration. This is the first year for the performance standard.
Meanwhile, the two counties will continue required efforts to market food stamps. Taylor and Jackson promised to keep the promotions low-key. They said that they feel uncomfortable pushing the program on a community that has made its opinion clear.
“We have a job to do,” Jackson said. “But it’s not to harass people to accept a service they’ve chosen not to.”
(John Horton writes for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland.)
KRE/RB END HORTON