Federal food aid critical for local workers, seniors, economy
The Southeast Ohio Foodbank, a program of Hocking Athens Perry Community Action, provides basic food help to about 19,000 different people each month across its 10-county service area. More than one in four people we serve are seniors. Even as we continue to see historically long lines at the food bank and our member food pantries, we know the situation could have been much worse over the past 14 months. Thankfully, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act on a widely bipartisan basis in March 2020.
Included in that emergency measure was authorization for USDA to issue emergency allotments through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps). Research released today by The Center for Community Solutions shows that those emergency allotments have most benefited working families, older adults and households caring for people living with disabilities. For example, a front line worker with two kids working full time for $13 per hour is currently receiving about $600 per month in food assistance to supplement their income. When the SNAP emergency allotments end, those benefits will drop back to around $100 per month. Similarly, an older adult living off of Social Security retirement benefits is currently receiving an estimated $219 per month in extra help to buy the food they need – that will drop back to the minimum SNAP benefit of $16 per month when the emergency allotments end.
In Athens County alone, these SNAP emergency allotments have infused about $660,000 per month in additional federal funds for residents to buy groceries. Those dollars have been spent right here, supporting local businesses, local tax revenue and most importantly, keeping healthy food on the table for more than 9,400 Athens County residents.
This extra money to buy food is available as long as both a federal and state emergency declaration is in place. Several states that have ended more broad-reaching emergency declarations have worked with USDA to keep a basic declaration in place to prevent the premature loss of these food dollars, including Wisconsin, Utah, Michigan, and Oklahoma.
We are deeply concerned that, if the Ohio legislature doesn’t act to keep a basic declaration in place, our working families and seniors will suffer and our food bank won’t be able to meet the increased need, especially as many workers earning just slightly too much to qualify for SNAP rely on our network regularly for help already.
SNAP emergency allotments will end – likely in 2022 when the federal government lifts the federal COVID-19 emergency declaration. Much of the reason why we’re joining the Ohio Association of Foodbanks in asking for additional temporary state funding is because we know this crisis is on the horizon. We urge state lawmakers to protect access to these additional federal SNAP funds as long as possible for Ohio families and our local economy, and to direct additional temporary funding to the state’s food banks to help us cushion the blow to food insecure Ohioans when they do come to an end. You can help your neighbors, your local farmers and grocers and your food bank by making sure the rug isn’t pulled out from under us before we’ve fully recovered.
Kelly Hatas is executive director of Hocking Athens Perry Community Action.