Ohio foodbanks yet again asking the federal government not to hurt hungry citizens

By: - May 11, 2023 4:50 am

Food distribution. Photo by Ken Coleman/Michigan Advance.

Federal and state budget talks hold many funding sources in the balance, but advocates say hungry Ohioans shouldn’t become a pawn in the negotiation game.

The Ohio Association of Foodbanks recently urged federal officials to refuse budget cuts or policy changes related to food assistance, especially after pandemic-era Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits were allowed to lapse mere months ago.

“Ohio’s foodbanks are already at our breaking point, doing our best to stand in the significant gaps left after pandemic-era supports ended in the midst of record inflation and historically high prices,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director for the OAF, in a statement responding to debates on the federal debt ceiling.

Threatening to further cut SNAP benefits and Medicaid coverage “risks worsening health outcomes, higher health care costs, increased housing instability and homelessness and rising rates of hunger,” Hamler-Fugitt wrote.

The association found that elimination of the SNAP benefits from the COVID-19 pandemic removed $126 million in “grocery-buying power” from 1.5 million Ohioans.

“An average three-person household lost about $200 per month in food assistance overnight,” the group concluded.

Before the debt ceiling debate began in earnest, Hamler-Fugitt had already sounded the alarm on the loss of pandemic-era benefits, and the impact on Ohioans, which amounted for 70,000 older citizens watching monthly benefits drop from triple digits to double digits.

It was then that she pushed for the solution: more resources for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep the benefits going.

The association and other similar organizations have also been pleading with the state to help fund the efforts and keep Ohioans from going hungry.

In the current version of the budget, still under consideration by the legislature, the Ohio Association of Foodbanks would be funded in the amount of $24.5 million in each of the next two fiscal years, as distributed by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

The association is also set to receive earmarks of up to $22 million in each the next two years, coming from general revenue, federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and public assistance activities funds.

The earmarks, which are the same as the proposal submitted by the governor in his initial executive budget draft, would be used to “purchase and distribute food products, support Innovative Summer Meals programs for children, provide SNAP outreach,” as well as providing equipment for food pantries and soup kitchens, according to a Legislative Service Commission breakdown of the current budget draft.

One hunger initiative that was added after the initial executive proposal expands funding for reduced-price-eligible students in Ohio schools.

The Ohio House’s version of the budget requires the Ohio Department of Education to reimburse school districts so that all school breakfasts and lunches are free for those that fall under the reduced-price eligibility requirements.

The change comes after school nutrition leaders urged legislators to provide more funding to feed children and prevent the stigma children face when identified as eligible for the low-income programs. Though making all lunches up to the reduced-price level free is a step up, school officials were hoping the state would fill the gap between district funding and federal funding that would allow universal free lunch throughout Ohio.



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.

Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.