The State of Ohio’s refusal to seek an extension of food stamp eligibility in all 88 counties will disproportionately harm poor and minority residents. Advocacy groups have filed a civil rights complaint about the policy; it deserves attention.
The federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program requires food stamp recipients to work 20 hours a week or attend job training. Encouraging recipients to seek employment can be empowering, but the jobs have to be there — and they aren’t. Because of a lack of job growth, Ohio officials had since 2007 received a federal waiver from the work requirement that applied statewide.
But last year, officials of Gov. John Kasich’s administration applied for the waiver for only the 16 most economically depressed counties in Ohio. These counties are located mostly in Appalachian Ohio, and don’t include the state’s big, urban counties — including Lucas County — even though jobless rates remain distressingly high there.
Ohio Department of Job and Family Services officials estimate that of the 1.8 million Ohioans who receive food stamps, 134,000 Ohioans are losing their benefits under the new policy.
The civil rights complaint filed by legal aid groups across the state, including Toledo-based Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, notes that minorities tend to live in urban areas. Statistics from June show that about 63 percent of Ohio food stamp recipients were white, and about 38 percent were minorities. Yet in the counties where work-requirement waivers have been granted, white Ohioans accounted for 94 percent of recipients.
Governor Kasich has the power to amend this troubling policy. In an election year, it would seem prudent to show concern for hard-pressed voters who live in urban areas.
It is absurd to think that food stamp recipients who live in areas such as Lucas, Cuyahoga, Lorain, Montgomery, and Mahoning counties can easily find jobs when local unemployment rates often top 8 percent. Even for recipients who want to work and provide for themselves and their families, the opportunity may not be there.
Food stamps aren’t a windfall. The typical Ohio recipient gets about $130 a month. Urban or rural, poor people should be able to eat — and when they need government help, they should get it.
The advocacy groups that filed the complaint should be commended for their fight against hunger. They are asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program, to overrule state policy and extend the work-requirement waiver to all Ohio counties. If Governor Kasich will not do the right thing, the federal government should reverse this punitive policy.