Ohio low-income families will see big cuts to SNAP benefits

On a Monday morning, cars line up at the Broad Street Presbyterian Church outside downtown Columbus waiting to pick up items from its food pantry.

Demetric Blankenship and Orville Sharp III, however, do not have the luxury of a vehicle, having arrived by foot or bus. They take their portions to a small park outside the church entrance, surveying what they got and packing them into whatever bags they can carry.

Blankenship frantically searched through his portion, but there was one thing he didn’t see. “You got any more meat?” he shouted at Sharp.

“They only gave me one, that’s all I got,” Sharp answered back.

Both food banks and low-income Ohioans are struggling to obtain fresh and healthy foods as food prices soar, due to labor shortages and supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19. The pandemic also worsened food insecurity in Ohio, with 334,000 more people served by pantries this March than two years ago.

Some fear it could get worse.

When the federal government potentially ends its COVID-19 emergency declaration in July, significant boosts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or food stamps, will also disappear for at least 700,000 Ohio households.

More people are expected to start showing up at food pantries this summer. Food banks, which are seeking more state money to help, may have to turn people away.

β€œAll hell’s going to break loose,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

Food stamp boost

Around $120 million a month has boosted food stamps in Ohio since the federal government authorized large increases at the beginning of the pandemic, when COVID-19 orders had shut down businesses and millions of jobs were lost.

Sharp before the pandemic, he was individually getting above $180 a month. Now, he’s getting around $260. That’s in line with the roughly $100 average increase in SNAP benefit per person across the US

Cars wait in line to pick up food from the Broad Street Presbyterian Church food bank on May 9, 2022.

Certain households, such as ones with older adults, saw hundreds of dollars in increases. An older adult living alone might have received $16 monthly in 2019, but during the pandemic, got $234 monthly. It’s a reality many have lived with for the past two years.

The sudden reversion to pre-pandemic levels may force hard budgeting adjustments and catch many recipients off-guard, like it did with Blankenship, who was unaware of the potential change.

“They should have communicated to us more and let us know that we’re the ones that got to suffer,” he said of the government.

Advocates against hunger praised the increased benefits and have long said food stamp amounts were never enough. They point to studies and data that showed SNAP and other nutritional aid prevented a much worse hunger situation during the pandemic.

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