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Published: Saturday, 11/17/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Cuts to Ohio food assistance to be less than estimated

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A change in how the state calculates utility expenses for low-income Ohioans receiving food stamps means about $25 less a month of a cut for recipient households.

Food-stamp benefits for Ohioans had been set to decrease in January by about $50 per household per month because of the way utility expenses are calculated for people receiving the benefit, a mild winter nationwide last year, and a lower price for natural gas, as The Blade first reported Monday.

An agreement Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to let the state use a different calculation reduces the decrease to $23.

What’s called the “standard utility allowance” — the amount deducted from a person’s income when the state determines his or her eligibility for the food stamp program — will decrease in 2013, which originally translated to about $50 less monthly per household in food assistance.

State Job and Family Services officials tried to appeal the change to the Agriculture Department, which oversees the food stamp program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or SNAP — but the department had denied the request.

However, on Thursday, the state’s Department of Job and Family Services asked the Agriculture Department to use a different calculation that takes into account the cost of electric heat and propane.

The federal department approved the change Friday.

As a result, households’ monthly benefit will decrease by $23 instead of $50.

According to a letter from the Agriculture Department to state officials, a majority of Ohioans heat with natural gas, but about 18 percent use electricity and 13 percent use “fueling oils or other methods.”

States periodically review their methodology, to reflect a more current picture of the utility costs low-income people pay, explained Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“I’m pleased ODJFS and the USDA were able to work together to minimize the impact [of the cut] on struggling families,” said Ms. Dean, an expert on the food stamp program.

Several members of Ohio’s congressional delegation — Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), Sen. Sherrod Brown, (D., Ohio), and Reps. Marcia Fudge (D., Cleveland), Tim Ryan (D., Niles), Betty Sutton (D., Copley Township), Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland), and Steven LaTourette (R., Bainbridge) — signed a letter to USDA Undersecretary Kevin Concannon on Thursday expressing concern about the proposed cuts and “the economic impacts of reducing the food purchasing power of Ohio’s 1.7 million SNAP participants.”

In determining food stamp benefits and eligibility, several factors are considered, such as energy, housing, and child-care costs. The average food-stamp recipient in Ohio receives $138 a month, according to state statistics. As of August, more than 1.7 million individual Ohioans, or about 869,000 families, received the assistance. A total of $3 billion in benefits was issued in 2011 in Ohio; the program is federally funded. In Lucas County, about 91,000 people — 46,000 households — receive the benefit.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, said the coming cuts will still hurt low-income families, but she was pleased some of the impact could be mitigated.

“We’re extremely grateful to both the ODJFS, and the USDA,” she said.

“You have made a world of difference for the most vulnerable in our state.”

Contact Kate Giammarise at: kgiammarise@theblade.com or 419-724-6091, or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.



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