Benefits of food stamp waiver debated

By Craig Kelly -

LIMA — An undersecretary with the U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains that the state of Ohio can do more to help able-bodied adults receiving supplemental nutrition assistance.

The USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, has a time limit in place on benefits for able-bodied adults without dependents, reducing aid to three out of 36 months unless that individual works or volunteers 20 hours per week. This measure is meant to prevent creating a dependency on the service, encouraging recipients to find more self-sustaining employment.

However, in counties with unemployment rates still 120 percent above the national average, a time limit waiver is available for assistance. Last year, the Kasich administration applied for waivers for 18 qualifying counties, leaving out three counties and 10 municipalities, including Lima, that have the same unemployment climate.

Kevin Concannon, USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services said these time limits could affect between 500,000 and 1 million SNAP benefits nationwide, either through not applying for the waiver or enough reductions in unemployment to negate the waiver. While the economic recovery has helped some people, Concannon maintains that it is not helping everyone.

“We know the economy is getting better for people with better education and skill sets, but it’s not getting better for people with less than a high school education or even a high school education,” he said. “So I have been urging states across the country to make sure they are availing themselves of the employment and training opportunities associated with the SNAP program.”

For Concannon, some of the resistance to taking full advantage of food assistance programs is based on politics and ideology.

“They view the safety net of these programs as contributing to the problem rather than helping it,” he said.

For West Ohio Food Bank Chief Operating Officer Tommie Harner, the need for assistance for able-bodied adults is still keenly felt, with many barriers still keeping this group from fulfilling their work requirements, such as transportation and a lack of opportunities.

“There aren’t that many sites for these individuals to go to, which is another concern,” she said. “So they have to do these hours and they’re willing to do them, but there aren’t a lot of organizations where they can go to fulfill them.”

Food bank CEO Linda Hamilton also said adults in their 50s have even fewer options, with the program ceasing at age 49 and many senior benefits not available until age 60 or older.

“What do you do with that gap?” she said. “Most of these individuals go to food pantries or other feeding sites. You may even be limited in going to these sites in what can you get.”

While the administration of these programs continues to be debated, Hamilton urges the public to reach out to those around them who may need help.

“Get to know your neighbors,” she said. “Remember, no dependents may mean no family and no support network.”

By Craig Kelly

Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0390 or on Twitter @Lima_CKelly.

Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0390 or on Twitter @Lima_CKelly.

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