Food stamp use hits all-time high in Ohio
COLUMBUS — Amid a sluggish economy, a record 1.1 million Ohioans are getting food stamps, the state’s welfare agency said. That’s about 10 percent of the state’s population.
Caseloads have almost doubled since 2001, when an estimated 628,000 people were in the program, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Low wages, unemployment and more expensive groceries, gasoline and other necessities have contributed to financial hardships facing many families. Ohio’s jobless rate is 5.3 percent, up from 4.4 percent in 2001.
Caseloads have been increasing for the past seven years, said Brian Harter, spokesman for the Job and Family Services Department, which oversees the food stamp program.
“The economy and loss of manufacturing jobs are at the root of what’s going on. But lately (it’s) the rising cost of transportation and food — people who were barely getting by, are not getting by,” said Jack Frech, director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services in southeast Ohio. “It has pressed folks to the edge to have to rely on food stamps.”
Another 500,000 Ohioans are eligible for the program but not enrolled, experts who study poverty say.
Those in households that make up to 130 percent of the federal poverty level — $22,880 for a family of three — and with assets no greater than $2,000, in most cases, are eligible for food stamps.
The federal government gives eligible families $100 a month in food stamps while the state covers administrative costs.
Recipients, however, are buying less with the money, advocates say.
“Food stamps provide only about $1 per person, per meal. Who in the world is buying groceries with that?” asked Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Food Bank in Columbus.
On average, food stamps are now providing less than two weeks of groceries.
“There’s the presumption that folks have the cash to make up the rest. Well, they don’t,” Frech said.
Food pantries and soup kitchens across the state have been facing record demands, but like families, are having trouble keeping up. In central Ohio, demand at the Mid-Ohio Food Bank in January was up 14 percent over the same period a year ago, with 120,000 requests for food.
The increased demand coupled with rising food costs and fewer donations have forced the food bank to reduce the five-day supply of food it had been giving out to a three-day supply.
“Milk is up 25 percent,” said Mid-Ohio president Matt Habash. “Applesauce, a big staple at food banks, has gone from $9 to $15 a case.”
In other areas of the state, pantries with their supplies depleted have been forced to temporarily close.
“The shortages are a double whammy for people who have been relying on food stamps and pantries,” Hamler-Fugitt said.