As families prepare to gather around the table for Thanksgiving, state policymakers are urging the governor to change requirements for food assistance. Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports some lawmakers say there’s disparity across the state when it comes to food stamps.
Starting at the beginning of next year, more than 134,000 Ohioans will lose their food stamps unless they meet certain work or training requirements. This affects childless adults ages 18 to 50 who are not disabled.
Democrats in the Ohio House and Senate demand a waiver for these requirements, saying there are too many people in the state who don’t have enough food to eat.
The requirements call on Ohioans to either work or participate in job training 20 hours a week. This has been the norm since the mid-1990s, but a waiver was created to help those hardest hit by unemployment and the recession.
Gov. John Kasich has decided to allow that waiver to expire without renewal -- except in 16 counties. The administration says these counties, mostly Appalachian, are areas that are struggling the most.
Democratic State Sen. Charleta Tavares of Columbus says that’s not fair to the rest of the state and those who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.
“To say that 16 counties’ residents have the opportunity to continue to receive SNAP benefits and 72 counties -- your largest counties' residents cannot," Tavares said. "How can we say we are being fair and just and right and equitable for all of Ohio’s citizens?"
Ben Johnson is spokesperson for Ohio’s job and family services department. He says every state had a decision to make about whether or not work requirements should be reinstated.
“There were some states that turned the waiver off statewide," Johnson said. "There were some states that left the waiver in place statewide. And we wanted to be a little more strategic than that. We wanted to be cognizant of the fact that there are some parts of the state where unemployment is still high, but we also wanted to begin providing job training and work activities in parts of the state where the economy is recovering just as we did before the recession.”
Johnson adds that the state is not saving money by this move. In fact, the state is spending $8.9 million to help counties transition back to these work requirements to help get Ohioans back on track.
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks says she has no problem with work requirements, but there comes a time when you have to ask if the recipients’ employment is sustainable or just for the assistance.
“People want to work, let’s be really clear about that," Hamler-Fugitt said. "But there are three jobseekers for every one job opening. And I know this population. We have worked this population since welfare reform. They are placed in foodbanks, food pantries, and soup kitchens, working on their benefits, OK. Working for their benefits, not on a path to paid employment.”
Johnson says there are many options available to those in danger of losing their food assistance. According to Johnson, even if someone can’t find a job there are still a variety of job training programs out there depending on the county.
But Tavares and Democratic State Rep. Dan Ramos plan to introduce similar legislation that seeks a waiver of work requirements for all 88 counties in Ohio.