the Beacon Journal editorial board
The Ohio Association of Foodbanks reports increasing demand for its services. That shouldn’t surprise. Consider the median household income for the state. It hasn’t recovered the ground lost during the recession (when adjusted for inflation).
The food banks serve those households at or below 200 percent of the poverty level, or $40,840 for a family of three. In 2015, 75 of the state’s 88 counties found more people eligible than six years earlier. Today, the network of food banks serves more than 2 million Ohioans each year.
That’s 1 in 6.
All of this provides another window into the reality of many Ohioans left behind as the economy has recovered. It argues for bolstering the commitment to food assistance. Unfortunately, in his two-year state budget plan, Gov. John Kasich proposed flat-funding the state contribution to the regional food banks. Then, the Ohio House proposed reducing the $39 million for the biennium by $1 million, a mysterious amendment landing in the budget plan that sets aside the funds for yet-to-be-identified “unaffiliated” providers.
Advocates note that this is the first time in nearly a dozen state budgets that regional food banks have faced the prospect of a reduction.
So, it falls to the state Senate to get the food assistance component right. At the least, it should hold to the governor’s proposal. Better would be embracing the request from the food banks for an additional $10 million a year — hardly an out-of-reach sum and one that reflects a concrete calculation based on the need.
In 2013, roughly 1.8 million Ohioans received federal food assistance, through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Soon federal budget reductions began to take hold, removing added assistance that came in response to the recession. Then the governor passed on a waiver that would have permitted many unemployed adults without dependents to continue receiving assistance.
The result is, three years later, 303,000 fewer Ohioans receive the federal benefits.
Ideally, many of those losing food assistance would find work. What the food banks know, from surveys of “able-bodied” clients between ages 18 and 49, is that many face high barriers to employment, from lacking skills to struggling with transportation. Such factors deserve a larger place in policymaking, just as there must be an adequate response to the increasing number of seniors using food banks, up 20 percent the past four years, to 449,000.
Sufficient food translates to better health. It enhances looking for employment and keeping a job. It frees room in limited household budgets to cover the costs of other basics, including housing.
For children, it means performing better in school.
More, all of us benefit. An analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that every $5 in federal assistance generates $9 for the local economy. The reductions in recent years have resulted in fewer sales for grocers and retailers, diminished sales tax revenue and less economic activity.
It makes sense then for the Ohio Senate step up. The governor and lawmakers have showered tax cuts on the wealthiest households the past decade. Surely, they can find an additional $10 million a year for the network of food banks.