Columbus Dispatch, March 22, 2008: Food stamps double since ’01

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By Catherine Candisky


Nearly one in 10 Ohioans now receives food stamps, the highest number in the state’s history.

Caseloads have almost doubled just since 2001, with 1.1 million residents now collecting benefits, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Low wages, unemployment and the rising cost of groceries, gasoline and other necessities are to blame for financial hardships facing many Ohio families.

Caseloads have been rising steadily in the past seven years, said Brian Harter, spokesman for the state agency which oversees the food-stamp program.

“Look at unemployment during this time,” he said.

Ohio’s jobless rate is 5.3 percent, up from 4.4 percent in 2001.

“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.

“It has pressed folks to the edge to have to rely on food stamps.”

Advocates estimate another 500,000 Ohioans are eligible but not enrolled in the food-stamp program.

Individuals in households with incomes up to 130 percent of the federal poverty level and with assets no greater than $2,000 in most cases are eligible for food stamps. That’s earnings of no more than $22,880 a year for a family of three.

Recipients receive $100 a month. The federal government pays for the benefits while the state covers administrative costs.

But as the price of milk, fruits and other groceries climb, advocates say, recipients can buy less and less with that $100.

“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.

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.

Not surprisingly, food pantries and soup kitchens across the state have been reporting record demands. Like the families they serve, they, too, cannot keep pace.

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,” Hamler-Fugitt said, “are a double whammy for people who have been relying on food stamps and pantries.”

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