More Ohioans have become acquainted with hunger in the past few years. Ohio’s emergency food network served about 2.32 million Ohioans in 2012. According to the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, that number represented a 46 percent increase in three years.
As employment rates continue to lag the economic recovery, the projection is the number of people who need food assistance will remain high. Agriculture committees in the U.S. House and Senate last week cleared farm bills that would sharply reduce funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal food assistance program previously called food stamps.
The deep cuts proposed for SNAP will greatly compound the hardships facing both households that lack the means for adequate food and the support structure of foodbanks, pantries and soup kitchens already stretched to the limit. The House bill is exceptionally harsh. It would cut roughly $40 billion in farm spending over the next 10 years. More than half of the cuts, $20.5 billion, would come out of SNAP. By comparison, the Senate bill would cut the program by $4.1 billion.
Among the House cuts to SNAP is a provision legislated in 1996 that permits states to provide food benefits to households with monthly gross income up to 130 percent of the federal poverty line and disposable incomes below the poverty line. The beneficiaries who would be harmed are the working poor. The bill also would cut funding for nutrition education and incentive payments that have motivated states such as Ohio to greatly improve efficiency, reducing errors in payments and increasing outreach to needy households that are not otherwise eligible for welfare programs.
The House bill does include modest increases in funding for foodbanks and community food projects. Still, an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concludes nearly 2 million people would lose SNAP benefits due to the House cuts. About 210,000 children who qualify for free school meals because of their families’ SNAP eligibility also would lose the benefit.
Why take the hatchet to a program that helps working-poor families stay afloat? The claim is that it has grown out of control, encourages dependence and adds to the federal deficit. To the contrary, reviews of SNAP show it is functioning more efficiently and accurately than ever. Besides, its use closely tracks the economy, rising in recent years with the Great Recession and weak recovery.
One impact of the proposed federal cuts would be greater demand for local assistance. Ohio’s foodbanks and the networks of pantries and kitchens they support help fill the food gap. State funds are a crucial source of their revenues. Lawmakers should meet the request for $34 million in the two-year budget to help put food on the table for 2 million hungry Ohioans.