More people in Ohio are hungry — or at least lack the money for a basic nutritious diet — as wages and jobs have stagnated and the cost of food has risen by 12 percent over the past two years.
It’s not only the poorest of the poor who are affected by a struggling economy. Working-poor families may earn a little too much to be eligible for food stamps, but still have little money left for food, after covering the rising costs of gasoline, utilities, and housing.
Those are among the people targeted by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which last year fed more than 2.3 million people — more than one in five Ohioans. That figure represented a 46 percent increase over three years. More than 830,000 of Ohioans served last year were children.
Twelve regional “Feeding America” food banks, including one in Toledo/northwest Ohio, distributed millions of pounds of food and grocery items, serving all of Ohio’s 88 counties, to nearly 3,300 local food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters. Recipients may earn as much as 200 percent of the federal poverty level and qualify. (The federal poverty line is roughly $19,500 a year for a family of three.)
“We’re seeing more households where people are working but not making enough to meet basic needs,’’ Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, told The Blade’s editorial page. “These are folks who are playing by all the rules, sometimes working two or three part-time jobs.”
The General Assembly is putting the final touches on the next two-year state budget, which takes effect July 1. It includes $14.5 million a year for Ohio’s food banks. To meet Ohio’s growing food needs, the Senate should add $2.5 million to the fund, boosting the state’s food-bank allocation to $17 million a year. The Ohio Association of Foodbanks receives almost all of its funding from the state.
State support of Ohio’s food banks represents an efficient public/private partnership. It directs surplus and unmarketable agricultural products from more than 100 Ohio farmers and producers to the state’s network of food banks, and finally onto the tables of Ohio families.
No state allocation is better — or more effectively — spent. The money goes toward purchasing fresh and shelf-stable food such as tuna, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, and vegetables. It reimburses farmers, at pennies on the dollar, for surplus food such as chicken and eggs under the Ohio Agricultural Clearance Program.
Reducing malnutrition among Ohio’s elderly and youngest residents also would save the state millions of dollars in health-care costs. State senators can do their part to feed Ohio’s hungry families by adding a modest $2.5 million to the state’s allocation for the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.