Food stamp benefits for 1.8 million Ohioans took a hit on Nov. 1.
Now food banks are bracing for a massive cry for help from those living on the edge of poverty.
A temporary boost to the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP has expired, resulting in a loss of $193 million from low-income Ohioans’ food budgets over the next year.
“I imagine probably about mid-month our soup kitchens will get hit,” said Susan Bartosch, spokeswoman for the Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio.
Her group runs 64 soup kitchens, pantries, and shelters in Lorain County, including Oberlin.
The working poor, those struggling with unemployment, and retirees are among those expected to be hardest hit, Bartosch said.
A mother with two kids on SNAP benefits is likely to see a reduction of $29 per month in her benefits, she said. On average, that family will only be able to put food on the table 12 to 15 days out of the month.
For a family of four, the cuts will mean an average of $36 less per month in SNAP benefits, according to the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.
“Last year, our 12 member foodbanks and 3,300 member charities distributed emergency food valued at about $223 million,” said association director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt. “Just these cuts alone equal nearly all of the food our emergency food assistance network was able to distribute. We have no new sources of food or funding. Our network cannot fill this gap.”
Across the nation, 47 million Americans are expected to encounter food stamp cuts.
Congress isn’t helping. The parties are at odds over a new five-year farm bill with SNAP provisions, and both the House and Senate are asking for cuts ranging from $4 billion to $40 billion.
The majority of Ohioans receiving SNAP benefits are children, seniors, and adults whose hours have been cut severely, said Hamler-Fugitt.
“Now is not the time to take these benefits out of low-income households or local economies,” she said.
Bartosch said that even before the cuts there has been a decade of increased demand for assistance.
She expects that Second Harvest will give out eight million pounds of food this fiscal year in Lorain, Huron, Erie, and Crawford counties — a new record.
The clients she sees come from all walks of life. Many work but are living just on the edge of stability.
“People are back at work, but some epople are underemployed. They’re making less money. They’re paying their rent, they’re paying their utilities, but maybe one month they have a big medical bill. What gives? It’s likely to be food,” Bartosch said.
The need was incredibly great this year, but Second Harvest struck partnerships with area farmers big and small. Together, they were able to stockpile potatoes, carrots, apples, and other common vegetables and fruits in cold storage.
But when SNAP cuts take their toll this month, the biggest donation needs will be the peanut butter, tuna, cereal, soups, beef stew, and vegetables.
The only silver lining, Bartosch said, is that this is the time of year when people’s minds turn to giving because of the upcoming holidays.
To learn about options for giving, visit www.secondharvestfoodbank.org.