On the front lines of the poverty fight, the struggle for resources continues

By: - February 11, 2021 12:55 am

The All People’s Fresh Market in Columbus, Ohio. (Brooke LaValley/ Ohio Capital Journal.)

Groups that help millions of struggling Ohioans are facing increasing costs and demand, and they’re trying to fight legislation that they say will only make their jobs more difficult.

An estimated 737,000 Ohioans sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat over the previous seven days, and 542,000 had little or no confidence in their ability to pay the next month’s rent, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, which ran through Feb. 1.

Those numbers are in addition to 326,000 new and continuing jobless claims as of Jan. 30, according to the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, which has struggled to pay them.

That means the need for resources keeps grinding on, said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

“Things just aren’t letting up,” she said on Tuesday. “I don’t know what to say. Everything seems to be moving forward. Vaccinations are getting out there, but we’re just not seeing a rebound in the economy. We’re continuing to see record demand.”

When Gov. Mike DeWine last week announced his proposed budget, it contained $31 million for food banks for the coming year — well short of the $45 million Hamler-Fugitt and her associates requested. She said that talks continue about whether unused money from last spring’s federal CARES Act might also be used.

But in the meantime, supply chains remain jammed up as food producers continue to struggle to switch over to packaging enough of their products in household-sized portions, Hamler-Fugitt said.

Those problems have resulted in higher costs, while demand for services from Ohio food banks continues to set records.

“We’re spending more money than we’ve ever spent to try to purchase food,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “We need more resources, not less.”

The bottom line from that is that especially for poorer Ohioans, the economic recovery hasn’t started. Even when enough Ohioans are vaccinated against covid to allow economic recovery, Hamler-Fugitt said, many who have lost jobs won’t have the same ones to go back to.

“We’ve got to get people retrained into jobs that are going to be there when we come out on the other side,” she said. “We’re very concerned about elevated rates of unemployment, poverty and food insecurity among a growing number of low-income Ohioans who are thousands and thousands of dollars behind on their rent or their mortgage and they’re jobs aren’t going to be there to go back to.”

While DeWine and others work to help stabilize struggling Ohioans, Hamler-Fugitt said a bill in the legislature will only hurt them.

Among other things, Senate Bill 17 would restrict access to the Supplemental Food Assistance Program and expand work requirements to receive Medicaid, which covers more than a quarter of all Ohioans. Perhaps it’s not what people need as they try to fight their way out of this covid mess.

“It’s completely punitive,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “People who’ve been working really hard to get back on their feet, it’s going to take food out of the mouths of hungry families for sure and limit their access to SNAP benefits. It’s full employment for bureaucrats. That’s all I can say about it. It’s going to require an awful lot of administrative bureaucracy and it severely limits individuals’ ability to get the benefits they need at a time of record pandemic.”



Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.