Springfield News-Sun : 2019-02-11

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B2 | MONDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2019 COMPLETE. IN-DEPTH. DEPENDABLE. LOCAL& STATE OHIOPOLITICS Bill teaches teens about patience, politics Barns designated as official historical structures in Ohio. part of Ohio history, and because of the diversity of Ohio’s European settlers, the state boasts a variety of barn styles, each with a story, said Dan Troth, vice president of Friends of Ohio Barns, a nonprofit groupand bill proponent. For example, a 16- sided barn in Freeport, an eastern Ohio village, was designed by George Washington to keep horses warm and is one of only three left in the country. Mail Pouch barns, painted with 1920s ads for chewing tobacco, still span the Ohio Valley. But today, many historic barns face the threat ofdemolition, Troth said. Even structures in pristine shape are frequently dismantled for their wood, which is turned into flooring, ceiling beams and furniture, he said. Though they initially faced pressure to streamline their proposal, the students stood by their choice to recognize all barns, rather than one specific type, to be inclusive of all of Ohio’s past, they said. “We’re excited about the mark we’ve left on Ohio’s code,” Thompson said. “Now, groups like Friends of Ohio Barns and the Ohio HistoryConnection will have something to point towhen they’reworking to preserve Ohio’s history.” ByAlissaWidmanNeese The Columbus Dispatch Spanning more than four years, it’s likely Westerville Central High School’s longest class project ever. But to the four teenswho first proposed a bill to Ohio lawmakers in 2014 that will finally become lawinMarch, it’smuchmore than a school assignment. What started as a middle- school learning experience has evolved into a passion for preserving Ohio history, the girls say. The bill designates the barn as Ohio’s official historical architectural structure, recognizing the buildings that have housed everything from schoolchildren to farm equipment, crops and animals since the pioneer days. Though introduced on its own, the state designation eventually was rolled into Senate Bill 86, a lengthymeasure that includes other recognitions, such as dubbing the secondweek of October “OhioCoveredBridgeWeek” and declaring that a shelter pet is the state’s official pet. Former Gov. John Kasich signed the bill in December. It was a long road, filled with hours of research, testimony COLUMBUS — CaleyNestorBaker (fromleft), WestervilleCentral juniorsRachelKaufman, AnnaBorders andSarah Gellner, Wellington juniorAdriane Thompson and DebbiePellingtonworked to draft the barn bill. ADAMCAIRNS / THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH by Bob Hackett, R-London, chairman of the Senate’s agriculture committee, who helped give it its final push. Thestudents’proposalwas inspired by the Everal Barn, a restoredWesterville structure on the National Register of Historic Places that’s used as an event space, as well as the state’s 2003 bicentennial celebration, when an artist paintedmurals on one barn in each of Ohio’s 88 counties. Barns are an important Debbie Pellington, a coordinator of gifted services, took seventh- graders on a field trip to the Ohio Statehouse. There, they offered proposals for a new state symbol to former Rep. Anne Gonzales, R-Westerville, who organized the event as away to engage young people in politics, she said. Gonzales selected their proposal and introduced it to the House in 2017. Senate Bill 86, in its final form, was first introduced guns.” Borders first crafted the proposal as a Genoa Middle School seventh- grader with classmates Sarah Gellner, 17; Rachel Kaufman, 16; and Adriane Thompson, 17. Borders, Gellner and Kaufman are Westerville Central juniors now, and Thompson attends the Wellington School in Upper Arlington. It all started when Caley Nestor Baker, at that time a social studies teacher, and and advocacy, especially after the proposal stalled in the Ohio Senate. But the students say the experience, though frustrating at times, taught them more about politics than they could ever learn from a textbook. “We grewupwith this bill, really,” said 17-year-old junior Anna Borders. “Therewere a lot of hiccups and obstacles along the way, but even that taught us about perseverance and sticking to our IN-DEPTH IN-DEPTH Study: Cleveland No. 1 city for immigrants to become citizens Food banks decry costly new system for food stamps Wait time of four months shortest in the country. Stateofficials acknowledge the transition has caused headaches, but said the biggest problems have been a result of mistakes by county caseworkers, rather than the system itself. County job and family services departments have focused on training workers to become more familiar with the new system, officials said. “Throughout February, we are providing technical assistance tocounty agencies to ensure that applications submitted online are being processed properly and in accordancewith policy,” said Brett Crow, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Joel Potts, the executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors’ Association, said the new system is working about as well as can be expected. “I would say we’re very pleased in the directionwe’re going, butwe still have a lot of work to do,” Potts said. The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, more commonly referred to as food stamps, is a federally funded programthat provides food for the poor. Eligibility for the program is 130 percent of the federal poverty level, or $ 32,640 annually for a family of four. Instead of the old-fashioned stamps, recipients now receive a debit card, loaded monthly, that can be used to buy approved food products at stores. Food- stamp recipients also are required to work a certain number of hours a week, attend classes or other “work-related activities.” However, Ohio inOctober loosened work requirements in 11 counties, including Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Erie, Lorain and Lucas (Toledo) counties. ByAndrewJ. Tobias Advance OhioMedia A costly new state system, meant to streamline the foodstamp application process, is drawing harsh criticism fromOhio’s food banks, who say it’s making it harder for needy people to get food assistance. After previously testing it in a five-county pilot, the state in August diverted all food- stamp applications through the newonline platform, the Ohio Benefits System. The system, estimated to cost the state and federal government $539million by the time it’s finished, first launched in 2014, when the state set ituptoprocessMedicaid applications. Lisa Hamler Fugitt, executive director of the professional association that represents Ohio’s food banks, said she’s heard anecdotes from members across the state about problems with the new system. Those problems have included notices for mandatory applicant interviews being sent to the wrong address, or people trying to call in for a required phone interview, only to wait on hold for an hour or two before giving up. This has led people to be improperly denied food stamps, some of whom didn’t find out until they tried to check out at the grocery store line, she said. “I’m completely in a state of shock on the cost alone of the system,” she said. “... But this system’s been out there since 2014. This is 2019. And for $539 million, you’d thinkwewould have gotten it right.” CLEVELAND — ByJanet H. Cho The (Cleveland) PlainDealer Cleveland is the No. 1 city in America in which to become a U.S. citizen, with the nation’s shortest average processing time, among the highest rates of clearing its backlog, and the most efficient U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office, according to a just-released study by Boundless Immigration. “Relative to other metro areas, Cleveland — at 95 points — is as good as it gets across all of theseweighted factors, and it earns the No. 1 spot on the index,” said Boundless Immigration, a Seattle technology company that helps families navigate the immigration process and apply for green cards and citizenship. In comparing howeligible immigrants across the U.S. become naturalized, Boundless Immigration ranked 103 major metropolitan areas and 86 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field offices according to three major barriers to citizenship, using Department ofHomeland Security and other federal data. Cleveland came out on top of both its lists: the “Best (andWorst) Cities toBecome aU.S. Citizen,” and the “Best ( and Worst) Field Offices to Become a U.S. Citizen.” While it takes an average of only four months to process an application for citizenship in Cleveland — the shortest wait time in the country – the average waiting period nationally ismore than twice that at 10 months. At the otherendof its ranking, in comparison, immigrants applying for citizenship inHouston have to wait an average of 17.3 months, in a USCIS field office with a backlog completion rate of only 35 percent, among the nation’sworst. “Theonly city whereimmigrantswouldfare worse is Austin — because they’ll have to go through the same struggling field office inHouston, but travel 80 miles to get there as there is no office in Austin,” the study said. Xiao Wang, co- founder andCEOofBoundless Immigration, CLEVELAND — Cleveland is theNo. 1 city inAmerica in which to become aU.S. citizen, according to a study by Boundless Immigration, a Seattle technology firmthat helps families navigate the immigration process. Greater Cincinnati isNo. 2. MARCUS YAM/ LOS ANGELES TIMES the Greater Cleveland area ranks No. 10, with 13.3 percent of its immigrants eligible for citizenship approved in 2017. On that chart, Columbus ranksNo. 1, having approved 20.6 percent of its eligible immigrants, and Greater Cincinnati is No. 2, with a 16.8 percent citizenship approval rate. Joe Cimperman, president of Global Cleveland, said: “This ranking is a big deal, as it speaks to the greatwork of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office and its awesome staff in Cleveland. As anyone who has naturalized in Cleveland knows, Global Cleveland has been at every single ceremony since May 2016, four naturalizations a month every month.” “Naturalization is so important. People’s rates of job promotion increase, there is more access to financing for entrepreneurs and new business start-ups for those who naturalize, and the chances of someone staying in the community in which they naturalize rise exponentially,” he added. “Cleveland is ranked this way becausewe dowelcome well, people’s applications are processed quickly, and each yearwewelcome close to 3,000 people whomade the choice to become new citizens. I think they choose to naturalize because Cleveland is the best American warm welcome there is,” he said. jobs or to visit their families, she said. Boundless Immigration points out that if the 9 million lawful permanent residents (also called green card holders) eligible to become citizens actually did so, they could get hiredfor better-paying jobs and increase their annual incomes by 8 percent to 11 percent by demonstrating to employers “a longtermcommitmentto liveand work in the United States.” The path to citizenship, however, is longer and more complicated than it has ever been. On top of the costly application fees and required tests in English and civics, processing times have doubled since 2016 and are expected to increase, because the government’s ability to clear its backlog of applications is at its lowest point in years. On top of that, the likelihood of people being approved for citizenship varies according to where they live, and more applicants than ever are being denied. “There is immense variation by location,” the study says. “Immigrants in some cities are encountering minimal backlogs, short wait times, and convenient locations for the citizenship interview, while immigrants in other cities face large backlogs, long (even outrageous) wait times, and an interview location over 100 miles away.” Ona third list, “Which Cities Are Producing the Most New American Citizens,” said the intent of the study was to demystify a process that to applicants “is often a very frightening and terrifying experience, a fear of not knowing if you’re doing it right.” By gathering data across government agencies and putting it into terms applicants can understand, “we wanted to shine more light on this process,” he said. “There is a significant difference across geography, across cities and across field offices.” Immigration attorneyMargaret Wong, president and managing partner of Margaret W. Wong & Associates LLC, said the idea that Cleveland has the nation’s shortest average processing time is “absolutely true.” Cleveland, which used to have one of the lower rankings in terms of USCIS efficiency, has improved under new leadership, she said. “Our clientsandus lawyers don’t have to wait for hours in the waiting room for our turn to be called and then see the officers taking their breaks and- or [at] lunch,” she said. “U. S. citizenship applications are taking only weeks to be fingerprinted and called in for interviews with decisions issued faster. Their approval rates are not high but at least their reasoning is reasonable. Our applications for green cards are also being called for interviews at record time, which is good,” because it means foreign- born immigrants can get faster approvals for Officials say transition going well despite headaches InAugust, Ohiodivertedall food-stampapplications through thenewonlineplatform, theOhioBenefits System. 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