Hunger is a real concern in Ohio. Federal data released in September showed that the percentage of households in the state that experienced food insecurity rose to 16.1 percent between 2010 and 2012, well above the national average of 14.7 percent, an increase that was the third highest rate in the country.

Come January, hunger will become an even bigger problem for more Ohioans if Gov. John Kasich follows through with a policy that would take food benefits away from able-bodied, childless adults unless they spend at least 20 hours a week working, or are enrolled in a job-training program or engaged in some kind of qualified activity. The policy will affect an estimated 134,000 recipients in all but 16 counties.

State officials argue they are only complying with strict federal work requirements. To be sure, the regulations flow out of 1996 laws that emphasized self-sufficiency and revamped the welfare system to prevent adults who can work from taking undue advantage of public assistance. Still, there is some flexibility in the system. Since 2007, state governments have been able to apply for a federal waiver of the work requirements to provide relief as the national and state economies struggled through the deep recession.

Hard hit during the recession, Ohio qualified for the waiver and still does. If the state economy is recovering, the improvement remains uneven. Unemployment is high across the state, and food insecurity, households uncertain whether they will have enough to eat, has increased in low-income communities. For the third month in a row, Ohio’s jobless rate ticked up in October to 7.5 percent, a reminder of weakness still in the state economy.

It is unfortunate that Kasich has chosen to apply the waiver to only 16 counties with the highest unemployment figures. The policy ignores a harsh reality: In many communities in the remaining 72 counties, job openings are scarce, job-training opportunities are few, and meager as it is, food assistance helps stave off hunger for those who can and would like to work if they could find a job.