A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows it’s getting harder for low-income Ohioans to put food on their tables. Lisa Hamler Fugitt with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks says the new numbers show the situation in Ohio is getting worse. In an interview with Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles, Hamler Fugitt explains it could even get worse.
HAMLER FUGITT: "Unfortunately while the national data is staying relatively flat, Ohio’s rate has increased overall, placing us 10th highest in the nation. But for those who are suffering with a lack of resources, meaning that hunger exists, they lack the food or the funding in order to get food, which is a severe rate, has gone up dramatically, and in fact Ohio tied for third in the number of Ohioans suffering from hunger."
INGLES: "Well this is kind of surprising, because when you look at our unemployment rate in Ohio, we have one of the lower unemployment rates in the nation. It’s lower than the national average. So why would we be having this problem."
HAMLER FUGITT: "I think that we shouldn’t be looking at unemployment rate and comparing it. What we should be looking at is how does the United States hunger rate or food insecurity prevalence rate correspond and correlate to poverty. And it’s very interesting that as we have looked at these numbers over time, the rate of those suffering from a lack of food corresponds to the number of individuals that are in poverty. And again, this is they're suffering from hunger, often despite working. The wages aren’t there. The jobs aren’t there. In fact, the jobs that were lost during the Great Recession are now being replaced with low-wage, part time, temporary or contingent work."
INGLES: "And that’s what you think is contributing to the problem then?"
HAMLER FUGITT: "I do. And again, when we saw a rate of 16.1 percent of all households suffering from food insecurity or a lack of resources in order to feed themselves and their families, and we look at the poverty rate, it’s pretty clear that there is a correlation between hunger (and) poverty, despite employment."
INGLES: "And this problem, you think, is only going to get worse because Congress has not re-authorized the food stamp program, correct?"
HAMLER FUGITT: "That’s correct...before they went on their five-week recess for the August recess, they broke nearly a 60-year partnership and split out the nutrition title of the farm bill, and we're hearing that in their nine remaining days before the end of the fiscal year when they return next week, that there will be an attempt to move a standalone nutrition title of the farm bill that proposes to make deep cuts in the food stamp program. In fact, there are some who are proposing deeper cuts than $40 billion."
INGLES: "And how will that affect Ohioans?"
HAMLER FUGITT: "It is going to be catastrophic. What we can certainly see is that those who are turning to charitable food assistance programs will be turning more frequently to our doors, what we will see are rates of hunger and poverty increasing in our state, more health care costs associated with hunger and food insecurity, lost worker productivity and ultimately lost educational attainment for our children. It is unconscionable."
Hamler Fugitt says there are local community food pantries that routinely run out of food. And she says there is a greater need for suburban food pantries in formerly affluent communities where hunger has not traditionally been a problem.