The Ohio Association of Food Banks has praised John Kasich for the resources he has directed to the hungry. The governor has deserved the applause, recently issuing another executive order routing emergency funding to food banks.
The need is real. A national report released last month by the Food Research and Action Center found that one-quarter of Ohio households with children are unable to afford the food necessary for their families. For households without children, the share is one in six. Recent census data reinforced the hard times, the poverty rate across the country and Ohio remaining at the elevated rate triggered by the deep recession.
Worth adding is that the unemployment rate here and nationally has remained stubbornly high, especially among those with less education and fewer skills. At the same time, the state has been reducing its welfare caseloads, leaving many of the poor without cash assistance. This has happened in the framework of federal welfare reform, and the reasonable goal of assistance linked to work or job training. The trouble is, such employment opportunities remain scarce. It hardly seems the right moment to enforce so strictly the rules and procedures for participation.
More, the money the governor has routed to food banks has come from the welfare program, federal funds shifted among the poor, in effect, a practice of taking from some to give to others.
To be fair, the new state budget begins to address the loss, and the governor has put a priority on improving the fragmented system for job training. Still, another problem looms, as Marilyn Miller, a Beacon Journal staff writer, described over the weekend. At the start of the new year, many Ohioans face the loss of federal food assistance as the state begins to apply mandatory work and job-training requirements.
Again, the principle makes sense, assistance tied to the pursuit of a job. The tough reality complicates things, jobs and training programs difficult to find and access. Ohio does qualify for an exemption from the work requirements for those receiving food assistance. Unfortunately, the governor has limited the relief to the 16 counties with unemployment rates greater than 120 percent of the national rate. That leaves 134,000 Ohioans, able-bodied adults without dependents, many in the Akron area, in a difficult spot.
Summit and other counties have begun to mobilize on their behalf. What puzzles is the narrow exemption, especially in view of the relative few in jeopardy, food assistance far from extravagant, at an average $189 a month. Why not wait until the job market gains sufficient momentum? Or act in the spirit the governor has expressed when delivering emergency funds to food banks?