Officially, the Great Recession has been over for more than three years. In soup kitchens, food pantries and shelters across Ohio, the reality is quite different. The impact of difficult economic times lingers. An estimated 391,000 remain out of work and many are underemployed. Hunger is part of that reality, a growing number of households unable to afford a regular supply of food, the most rapid increases in need occurring in rural and suburban Ohio.
An analysis of state data by Beacon Journal staff writer Rick Armon on Sunday indicated an increase of about 687,000 individuals since 2007 who need some food assistance. The upward trend, though not unusual in a recession, has persisted through a painfully slow economic recovery, some 1.7 million Ohioans receiving about $2.9 billion in food aid in the past fiscal year.
In urban counties with large concentrations of poverty and joblessness, hunger and food insecurity are all too visible, the numbers distressing. In Summit County, for instance, 31,000 more residents needed help with food in the past fiscal year than did before the recession. Cuyahoga County saw an increase of nearly 83,000.
The analysis sheds much needed light on a problem often hidden in more well-to-do suburban and rural communities. In Warren County, with the second highest median household income in Ohio at $71,961, the need for food assistance has surged 169 percent since the recession. Van Wert, Darke, Geauga and Mercer and Auglaize counties each has recorded increases of 120 percent or more. In Medina County, the number of residents in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (food stamps) Program has more than doubled.
For 1.7 million Ohioans, the food assistance provided by the network of foodbanks, pantries and soup kitchens is the critical barrier against hunger and poor nutrition. Last week, Gov. John Kasich issued a welcome executive order directing an additional $1 million for emergency food to Ohio foodbanks and the network of 3,300 hunger relief organizations as many Ohioans expect even leaner times next year with federal adjustments to SNAP payments that will cut aid by about $23 a month.