COLUMBUS — Thousands of impoverished adults in nearly half of Ohio’s counties would lose long-term food stamp benefits as federal officials tightened work requirements on some able-bodied adults Wednesday.
The change was announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at the direction of President Donald Trump, in a bid to make SNAP food benefits “assistance through difficult times, not a way of life.”
An estimate of the number of Ohioans among the 688,000 people ages 18 to 49 nationwide who would be disqualified from receiving Supplemental Food Assistance Program benefits effective April 1 was not available from state officials.
“It’s going to be catastrophic. This is a systematic attempt to destroy a federal nutrition safety net for our most vulnerable citizens,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.
Current law restricts able-bodied adults without dependents to three months of food stamps over three years unless they are working or attending education or job training programs for 80 hours a month.
States, however, could waive the work requirement and provide SNAP benefits in counties with unemployment rates as low as 2.5%, with nearly half of Ohio’s counties now covered by the waiver, including Cuyahoga, Mahoning, Stark and Summit. Franklin and Hamilton not among the counties with waivers.
But the new federal rule will only allow waivers of work requirements in counties with unemployment rates of at least 6%. Only three Ohio counties had unemployment rates in excess of 6% in October: Monroe, 7.8%; Noble, 6.3% and Jefferson, 6.1%.
Hamler-Fugitt said the Trump administration attempted to include the changed work requirements for able-bodied adults in the farm bill last year, but the move was “rejected outright by a bipartisan majority” of Congress.
Ohio officials did not offer any comment on the change while the rule was being drafted, said a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
“The administration suggests the change will restore the ‘dignity of work,’ but there is nothing dignified about going to a job interview hungry, and nothing about the experience of hunger makes someone more employable,” Hamler-Fugitt said.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, blasted the change. “I don’t understand the mean-spiritedness of these billionaires in the White House and in the Cabinet,” he said.
“The fact is what they don’t know, because I’m guessing they don’t know any food stamps beneficiaries, is that most people who get food stamps in this country already have jobs. They’re making $9 and $10 an hour because employers are not paying them livable wages and they’re eligible for food stamps as a result.”
Counties in which work requirements now are waived for able-bodied adults are Adams, Ashtabula, Athens, Belmont, Brown, Carroll, Clinton, Columbiana, Coshocton, Crawford, Cuyahoga, Erie, Gallia, Guernsey, Harrison, Henry, Highland, Hocking, Huron, Jackson, Jefferson, Lake, Lawrence, Lorain, Lucas, Mahoning, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, Ottawa, Perry, Pike, Richland, Ross, Scioto, Stark, Summit, Trumbull and Washington.
A bill that would disallow work-requirement waivers, backed by 23 Republicans, has been pending before an Ohio House committee since April.
Advocates for the poor fear other food stamp changes being studied by federal authorities would have an even larger impact on the 1.7 million Ohioans who are considered “food insecure.”
For example, a proposed change in how household utility expenses are calculated in determining food stamp eligibility would result in reduced benefits for 41% of Ohio’s 664,000 households receiving SNAP benefits, according to the Center for Community Solutions.
The average recipient, including households with children and the elderly, would lose $45 or 36% of their monthly $126 assistance to purchase food, the group said.
A total of 1.3 million Ohioans are partly fed through $168 million in food stamps each month.