Some food banks drastically reduce the amounts of food they give to people. At the same time, Ohio and many other states are sitting on huge piles of cash, and a spokesperson for Governor Mike DeWine was vague last week when asked how the governor would like to use that. money.
As often happens to the most vulnerable, current inflation and supply disruptions are hitting the poor much harder than anyone else. While many of us dread looking at our 401K these days, many low-income Ohioans are choosing between paying for housing, utilities, rent, medicine or food, said Lisa Hamler -Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.
The global food supply chain is complex and the reasons for shortages and price increases are interrelated. The coronavirus pandemic disrupted economic models in ways that are still being felt, while Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine disrupted important energy, grain and fertilizer supplies.
Amid all this, commodities and equipment are stuck in ports and warehouses, while food processors struggle to find the packaging and other supplies they need to do their jobs, Hamler-said Fugitt.
Shaken by all these forces, federal food aid to the states plummeted.
“It’s the perfect storm,” she said. “It’s a category 5.”
Among the characteristics of this storm:
- A coronavirus program that provided Ohio food banks with 27.5 million pounds of food last year has come to an end.
- Contributions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture — which normally provides about 30% to 35% of Ohio’s food bank needs — have themselves fallen by about 30% as surpluses dwindle. Meat and fish losses are particularly significant, Hamler-Fugitt said.
- Some food banks have reduced the number of days supply they give people from five to three.
- The most recent Household survey by the US Census Bureau indicates that at the beginning of May, nearly 700,000 households in Ohio – or 8% of the sample – sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the previous seven days. According to the survey, an additional 2.2 million people, or 25%, had enough food, but not always the desired amount.
One of the reasons people don’t eat enough, Hamler-Fugitt said, is because their incomes fall far short of inflation. Since many monthly expenses are fixed, people skimp on things that aren’t, she says.
“The one area of your budget that you can cut is your food budget,” she said.
To meet their most immediate needs, food banks are asking the state for $50 million. The needs are becoming especially acute now that schools are closing for the summer and their breakfast and lunch programs for Ohio’s 1.8 million children are also winding down, Hamler-Fugitt said.
“We are still struggling to replace them,” she said.
It looks like the state has money to fill grumbling stomachs.
It has about $500 million in unspent funds from the first tranche of US bailout money given during the pandemic, and another tranche of more than $800 million is on the way.
Meanwhile, Pew States Reports that Ohio and other states are sitting on unprecedented cash reserves.
In Ohio, the state’s total balance — “the combination of rainy day fund balances and remaining budget dollars called ending balances” — has increased 74% since 2019, to $7.4 billion. dollars, according to data accompanying the report.
In terms of the number of days the state can operate on those reservations alone, Ohio ranks 12th, at 115.8 days, according to the report.
Especially after the deadly experience of the Great Recession, it is understandable that states want to build a cushion against events that cause incomes to fall or expenses to rise – or both. But at the same time, the government has a clear interest in preventing vulnerable populations from going hungry.
DeWine press secretary Dan Tierney was asked if the governor supports using funds from federal coronavirus grants or massive state reserves to meet the immediate and longer-term needs of food banks.
“We’ve had the recommendation (from food banks) as part of many of the (US stimulus package) requests we’ve received,” Tierney said in an email. “This is under review and no final decision has been made.”
Hamler-Fugitt, who said DeWine has supported food banks during the pandemic, urged Ohioans to think about the lives of their neighbors who are unable to make ends meet.
“People are just trying to spend the day in the richest country on the planet,” she said.
This story was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal and is republished here with permission.
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