11/21/12) COLUMBUS, Ohio - Around the holiday season, attention typically turns to those who find it hard to celebrate because they've fallen on hard times. But hunger doesn't only happen during the holidays.
More than 1.7 million Ohioans receive food-stamp or SNAP benefits, averaging $138 per person per month. As a result of a government formula, says Nora Balduff, director of child and senior nutrition at the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, the amount many people get will decrease by roughly $23 a month per household starting in January.
"It's a huge amount of money for a family that's on food assistance. $23 is several meals a week. It's going to mean horrible sacrifices, horrible coping strategies."
Balduff and others in Ohio's hunger network are concerned that some people will be dropped from the program and forced into the already long lines at food pantries. The change could also mean some seniors and people with disabilities who already have low benefit levels could lose all of their monthly assistance.
As Congress works to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff," Balduff says it's critical that it spares the food-stamp program from further cuts.
Balduff says the association is grateful for personal donations received by their network of food-bank locations. But with continued high unemployment, she says, it's just not enough to meet the growing demand.
"It's too much of a gap to be able to fill by private support. The private sector has stepped up, individuals have stepped up, corporations have stepped up - and we need our federal and state partners to remain strong."
Noting the connection between hunger and health, Balduff says SNAP - the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - works like a vaccine, a preventive measure to help keep Ohioans healthy.
"Ohio's hunger bill was $6.97 billion in 2010 as a result of illnesses, educational achievement that has been lost and workforce productivity. So, we're already paying for the cost of hunger in pretty damaging health-care outcomes."
Meanwhile, SNAP benefits also are on the chopping block in the Farm Bill that's stalled in Congress, and a rollback of the program is expected in November 2013.
Hunger in Ohio Doesn't Take a Holiday
Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service-OH