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SNAP benefits increase in Ohio but some barriers remain

[Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock]
Yellow shopping cart behind a glass window with a sign reading "We welcome SNAP benefits."

The Thrifty Food Plan is a federal guideline issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It determines the amount of money Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients need in order to meet their daily food requirements.

Until earlier this fall, the Thrifty Food Plan had not been updated for more than 45 years.

The announcement was made in mid-August when the USDA conducted a re-evaluation of the plan based on factors such as current food prices, modern dietary needs and even how long it takes to shop and prepare food, according to Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, the executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

In Ohio, the change means that about one and a half million people will see an increase of nearly $40 a month, or $1.19 extra per day, according to a USDA press release. About 42% of those enrolled in the program in Ohio are children .

Hamler-Fugitt called the re-evaluation a much needed modernization, considering the current cost of groceries today is much higher.

“People purchased and consumed food very differently in the 1970 s compared to 2021," Hamler-Fugitt said. “We don't purchase in bulk anymore, we now oftentimes purchase foods that are more convenient.”

There are three other USDA food plans that describe how much it can cost to eat a healthy diet. The Thrifty Food Plan is the lowest cost plan — followed by the low-cost, moderate-cost, and liberal food plans.

In Ohio, a household's gross monthly income needs to be at or below 130% of federal poverty guidelines in order to be eligible for SNAP.  A household of four, for instance, needs to make $34,450 or less to be eligible. The average monthly issuance was $241, according to September data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Hamler-Fugitt said the increased benefits are modest yet significant to families and individuals who need it.

“This is a really big deal for low income families, “Hamler-Fugitt said. “This is helping very low income Ohioans and Americans. It's providing a little extra in their benefits on a monthly basis.”

The increase means those enrolled in the program can buy more food if their monthly income is not enough to afford food purchases, and it helps disabled and senior individuals that are on a fixed income, according to Hamler-Fugitt.

But Haley Carretta, the project manager at the Montgomery County Food Equity Coalition, says low income people enrolled in SNAP still face barriers.

“If you still have issues just getting to the grocery store in the first place, that transportation is still a barrier that may not just solve all your issues just because now you have more income on your SNAP benefits.” Carretta said.

In a 2021 USDA study, SNAP participants reported the cost of food as a common barrier toward achieving a healthy diet because of high prices. Some other barriers include d a lack of cooking equipment and a lack of transportation.

“We have public transportation, but that's still not going to meet everyone's needs. There's Uber and Lyft, but not everyone can afford to do that.” Carretta said.

Part of the solution requires a creative approach, a ccordin g to Carretta. I t might involve better food education or public programs better tailored to the needs of individuals or families .

She said educating families on how to eat a healthy diet is also a priority and there’s still a lot of work to do to ensure there’s access to healthy and nutritious food for everyone.

Hamler-Fugitt said the federal program still has a long way to go, but sees it as a sound investment that benefits lower income families, stimulates the economy and strengthens social safety nets for anyone that needs it.

“Hunger can strike anybody,”Hamler-Fugitt said. And as I say, hunger looks a whole lot like you and me, and it lives six doors down. You might be surprised who's hungry and in our great state, in our community.”

Food reporter Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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