Spotlight Exclusives

Protecting SNAP: Notes from the Field

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The words of Ohioans visiting food pantries across the state tell the story. A family dealing with long-term unemployment said, “The foodbank helps us stretch our income to pay for housing and other items like heat that we need.” Another participant said, “Like us, many of our friends and family have been laid off or lost their jobs. We can no longer turn to each other for help. The food pantry keeps us from going hungry.”

These stories show firsthand what may seem like statistics to some legislators, are real people with real needs. In my work as executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, I have seen our 12 Feeding America foodbanks fill crucial gaps through emergency food for families.  But the support of our foodbanks and our state government are simply not enough to feed hungry families without federal support. That۪s why we must do everything we can to prevent the proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

I don۪t spend my time in Washington, but I do know what is happening on the ground in Ohio. Nearly one in five people in our state experienced food hardship last year, according to a report from the Food Research and Action Center. Our network of more than 3,300 food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters provided emergency food assistance to over 2.3 million Ohioans in the past three months. And over 1.8 million seniors, working adults, and children in Ohio currently rely on SNAP benefits for food.

These people are making difficult choices every day. As one food pantry visitor said, “Sometimes we have to make choices between paying a bill or getting our 98-year-old grandma۪s medicine refilled. The food pantry holds us over until we can get food. Thank God for it.”

Our charitable response to hunger creates a strong response to the reality of hunger and food insecurity in our state and in our nationbut only when coupled with SNAP. That is why we believe in the importance of this essential federal program, and why we partner with the USDA and the state of Ohio to connect families in need with SNAP benefits.

When a parent struggling to feed their children calls our hotline looking for help, we connect them to a nearby church or community organization where a trained counselor can help them complete applications for work support programs like SNAP. At the end of the call, we ask them if they would be willing to answer a few questions about their economic activity. The responses to these questions have been alarming.

Since January of 2011, about 43 percent have reported buying less food or cheaper food to stretch their budgets. More than 34 percent reported visiting food pantries to survive. Over 18 percent told us they had resorted to borrowing money from payday lenders or family members to pay their bills and feed their families.

Even after taking these extreme measures to avoid hunger, they were still contacting us for help. This is happening all over the country because, despite the recovery, many are experiencing shrinking paychecks and reduced hours. Most of the new jobs being created are in low-wage sectors. Some people are able to go back to work, but they are going back to work in restaurants and hotels, health care and home health care, retail trade, and temporary employment agencies. They are not able to get jobs that provide long-term support and keep them out of our office.

We need SNAP to provide both food and economic activity in our communities. When benefits were at their highest in 2009, SNAP single-handedly reduced the depth of child poverty by 20.9 percent, as illustrated in a recent report by the USDA Economic Research Service. By protecting children and families from hunger, SNAP benefits allow seniors to pay for their medications, working adults to pay their mortgages, and children to learn and grow to their full potential.

SNAP is also an important economic engine. Every dollar spent through SNAP generates $1.72 in economic activity. Ohio۪s foodbank network also collectively strives for innovation and cost-efficiency, purchasing surplus agricultural products at reduced bulk rates and leveraging corporate, private, and public support.

This is in marked contrast to the food we provide through our member pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters. While this vital aid does hold off the feeling of hunger in the bellies of our children, it does not put their parents in grocery store lines.

Everyone believes that they have the answer for real economic recovery. Economists, legislators, and community leaders are offering up a variety of potential solutions to the issues facing our nation. There are many potential solutions, but cutting SNAP benefits and other federal anti-hunger programs should not be one of them.

To Print a PDF version of this document, click here.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt is the executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author or authors alone, and not those of Spotlight. Spotlight is a non-partisan initiative, and Spotlight۪s commentary section includes diverse perspectives on poverty.  If you have a question about a commentary, please don۪t hesitate to contact us at

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