More Ohioans are in need of food, according to food banks and pantries. They expect things to get worse after the federal public health emergency ends.
The cost of groceries has been increasing. Gas prices have risen as well, leaving low-income Ohioans with less money to spend on groceries.
Children will not have access to lunch at school, according to Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.
The Columbus Dispatch reported Tuesday that as Ohioans put on their air conditioners this summer, their utility costs may rise. In addition to the present food insecurity problem, there is a nationwide scarcity of newborn formula.
Benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, were enhanced in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic-related unemployment.
With the COVID-19 public health emergency proclaimed by the federal government set to terminate soon, those benefits will revert to prior levels.
“More individuals will be in need of that food assistance at that point,” said Tommie Harner, CEO of the West Ohio Food Bank.
She also stated that the agency is already noticing an increase in the number of persons seeking assistance. A recent last-minute pop-up event at the West Ohio Food Bank’s Lima site drew about 250 families, which Harner described as “eye-opening.”
Findlay, too, has seen an upsurge in need, according to CHOPIN Hall Executive Director Ron Rooker. While it’s difficult to pinpoint a precise cause, he claims that groceries are simply more expensive right now.
And, according to Rooker, after a drop in persons seeking help in February or March each year when they receive their tax refunds, the numbers tend to rise again in the following weeks.
Meanwhile, rising grocery prices and supply chain difficulties are affecting food banks themselves. Other commodities, such as packaging materials, are also in short supply, according to Hamler-Fugitt.
“Our transportation costs are out of control,” she explained.
She claims that the higher SNAP benefits have helped over 700,000 Ohio households buy more healthy food in the face of rapidly rising food prices.
However, she believes there is a greater understanding of how the end of the public health emergency would affect Medicaid consumers than SNAP recipients.
She explained, “You don’t use your Medicaid card every day.” “You can’t eat your Medicaid card, either.”
You have to be “extremely poor” to qualify for SNAP benefits in the first place, according to Hamler-Fugitt. This entails a gross income of no more than 130 percent of the federal poverty level and a net income of no more than 100 percent of the federal poverty level after various deductions from your county’s Department of Job and Family Services.
In 2022, the federal poverty level ranges from $13,590 for an individual to $32,470 for a family of five.
Many of CHOPIN Hall’s clientele, according to Rooker, do not receive SNAP assistance. However, some do, and he anticipates an increase in demand.
According to Hamler-Fugitt, the conclusion of the public health emergency will affect various people in different ways. However, she expects that the average SNAP recipient will lose $80 per month, with “the poorest of the poor,” such as the elderly, being the hardest hit.
She believes that Ohio will lose more than $120 million in direct food aid each month. She pointed out that SNAP benefits are entirely supported by the federal government.
This is not a party issue
Hamler-Fugitt had been meeting with politicians shortly before speaking with The Courier on Tuesday afternoon. She has also been in contact with Gov. Mike DeWine’s office and Director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Matt Damschroder to promote awareness.
Her organization is asking for a $50 million emergency appropriation from the American Rescue Plan Act to buy food. It also wants $133 million more to “improve the long-term capacity of our network,” which would include expanding warehouses, purchasing equipment, and establishing “neighborhood-based markets in high-need and underprivileged neighborhoods.”
Twelve regional food banks and 3,700 food pantries, soup kitchens, and hunger relief agencies make up the statewide network.
Between January and March of this year, food banks helped 862,634 homes, containing 2.43 million Ohioans, according to Hamler-email Fugitt’s to The Courier.
SNAP payments are determined at the federal level, according to Hamler-Fugitt, and she doesn’t expect Congress to amend the plan given how polarised things are in Washington. She does, however, hope for increased assistance in Ohio.
She stated, “Hunger has never been a party issue.”
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She expressed concern that many may not have been informed that their benefits were about to expire.
“We don’t want people to fear,” Hamler-Fugitt said, “but this is the reality.”
The exact timing of when the extended SNAP benefits stop depends on the expiration of the federal public health emergency, according to Bill Teets, director of communications for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, in an email to The Courier.
“I don’t have a precise date,” he replied, “but ODJFS will be interacting with SNAP users, as well as our county and nonprofit partners, to provide advance notice of the program’s closure, in order to provide as much lead-time as possible.”
There is assistance available.
Saturday marks the 30th anniversary of the Stamp Out Hunger food drive organized by the National Association of Letter Carriers. Residents can leave a nonperishable food donation in their mailbox by 8 a.m. Saturday for pick-up by mail carriers or volunteers.
Food can also be brought to the downtown Findlay Great Scot, according to Harner, who also stated that goods donated in Hancock County will remain here.
After the Saturday drive, Rooker stated that while food donations are welcome, monetary gifts will go further at CHOPIN Hall because the agency can purchase food at a lower cost than most people. CHOPIN Hall also requires volunteers, particularly those who are computer savvy.
“We critically need volunteers all around the state,” Hamler-Fugitt stated.
SNAP beneficiaries should use their remaining benefits wisely, including buying in bulk if possible, according to Hamler-Fugitt.
She urged individuals to look at other options as well. Seniors, for example, may be eligible for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which is different from SNAP and provides qualified individuals with a 30-pound box of government goods.
In addition to food, Rooker mentioned that CHOPIN Hall can assist with clothing and personal care goods.