Republicans in the Ohio Senate dropped a series of last-minute changes into their version of the state budget bill that would change the rules for families who get assistance with their groceries.
Supporters say the changes would make Ohio’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, sometimes referred to as food stamps, more secure and therefore better able to serve families in need.
“Unfortunately, a lot of folks take advantage of that who don’t qualify,” Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said.
But opponents argue the changes — especially the “low limit” on total assets — will have the opposite effect.
“It’s going to take food out of the mouths of hungry children and working families,” Ohio Association of Foodbanks Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt said.
Here’s what the changes would do.
Ohioans who receive food assistance would have 30 days to notify the program of a change in income that was more than $500. Parents would have to cooperate “with the child support enforcement program” as a condition of eligibility. And the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services would have to “conduct an asset test for each SNAP recipient.”
The problem, Hamler-Fugitt said, is that the Senate set the total limit at $2,250.
“Families are going to have to sell their cars to keep their SNAP benefits …,” she said. “Senior citizens who may have a modest burial insurance policy would have to liquidate that policy in order to feed themselves.”
But John Fortney, a spokesman for Senate Republicans, called those analogies unfair. The Senate plan requires Ohio to verify the current federal guidelines, which sets that asset limit for people under 60 who are not disabled. And it excludes the value of homes less than $600,000 and cars used for work or those worth less than $4,650.
“This simply follows federal guidelines,” Fortney said. “We want to make sure these critical funds are available to those who need them the most.”
Another issue Hamler-Fugitt had with proposed changes was child support. Requiring women — some of whom are victims of domestic violence — to seek a formal agreement is going to push them out of the system.
“These families have just cause for not pursuing a formal child support arrangement,” Hamler-Fugitt said.
The language in the Senate’s budget bill appears to be lifted from Senate Bill 17 sponsored by Sen. Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster.
Schaffdefended his proposed changes on the floor of the Ohio Senate Wednesday, saying they provide necessary checks and fraud protections for these programs.
“All the reforms have a common theme,” Schaffer said when he first introduced these ideas. “Repairing our safety net so that it’s strong enough to catch the needy, the folks eligible to receive — and need — public assistance.”