To the Editor: No one should go hungry in Athens County, or anywhere else for that matter. It’s this simple statement that keeps us working every day to serve our neighbors in need through our food pantries, free meal sites and food-assistance programs.
But serving everyone is getting harder. The need for help continues to increase. And so, as members of the newly formed Athens County Hunger Prevention Coalition, we are looking for ways to strengthen our programming and raise awareness about the issue of hunger in our community.
It may sound contradictory, but one way to strengthen our programs would be to alleviate the demand on our services. The fewer hungry people we have, the fewer times they will need to pick up a three-day supply of emergency food or have their dinner at a free-meal site. For this reason, we support any attempt to increase the number of individuals who qualify for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as SNAP or food stamps).
The state could help in this endeavor by extending the waiver of time limits on federal food aid. As the policy stands now, too many across the state, and including Athens County, are not eligible to take full advantage of this program that is proven to alleviate the compounding effects of living in poverty.
As explained in a recent report by Policy Matters Ohio, the federal rules place time limits on food aid for adults who are not elderly, disabled or in custody of a dependent. Aid is limited to three out of every 36 months, unless the individual is able to find enough work – about 20 hours per week – to meet the federal work requirements of the program. However, the federal government waives the time limits where the economy lags and employment programs are ultimately scarce.
The last sentence is important. Determining how many qualify for the waiver is based on a calculation. The way the calculation is applied is somewhat discretionary. Ohio’s version of the calculation is a more restrictive approach than it needs to be.
Ohio’s calculation looks at the unemployment rate of a county between January 2013 and December 2014. If it’s 120 percent of the national unemployment rate during that same period, the county qualifies for the waiver. Currently, 18 mostly rural counties qualify. Athens County is not one of them.
However, federal rules do not specify the size of the region. In other words, the state could drill down to the city level when evaluating the unemployment rate. The state could also evaluate the unemployment rate of a region, like all of Appalachia.
As stated in the Policy Matters Ohio report, if Ohio used a slightly different approach to its calculation, 34 out of Ohio’s 88 counties and 12 cities would qualify for the waiver. This would include Athens County.
Despite what the unemployment figures say, Ohio is still struggling. We sit at third in the nation for food insecurity. It should be in the state’s best interest to utilize all of the tools at our disposal to support our vulnerable families.
We must work together to find solutions to hunger. Extending the waiver to more individuals is one step in the right direction.
Athens Hunger Prevention Coalition
This is the coalition’s self-description: “The Athens Hunger Prevention Coalition is a group of individuals who work or volunteer to prevent hunger and food insecurity in our area. We formed