OHIO VALLEY — Food assistance benefits were just reduced in Ohio. The cut in benefits, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2013, varies for each household, and in addition to hurting poor families, the cut will also have a significant impact on grocery stores in the region and around the state.
Ohio’s Food Assistance (formerly known as food stamps) program is part of the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is designed to provide families with about 75 percent of the food they need each month. The average monthly benefit for a household is $284.
Regulations used in determining eligibility for Food Assistance use what is called a Standard Utility Allowance as a deduction of income for all household utility costs. This allowance takes into account the cost of heating a home, specifically with natural gas, last winter.
“The decrease in Food Assistance benefits this year is being made due to an overall decrease in the cost of heating a home with natural gas in Ohio and an unusually warm winter last year,” said Gallia County Department of Jobs and Family Services (DJFS) Director Dana Glassburn. “The formula does not factor in the fact that many [Food Assistance] recipients do not heat their homes with natural gas, or that other monthly expenses have gone up and cancelled out any savings that families may have seen in their heating bills.”
Earlier this year, the Ohio DJFS asked the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to waive the reduction in the Standard Utility Allowance and allow Ohioans to continue using the previous standard utility allowance. Barring that, ODJFS asked FNS to cap the maximum possible reduction in the standard utility allowance. FNS did grant either request.
Glassburn said that so far the benefit reduction appears to be approximately $10-$20 per month per recipient. He explained that using historic numbers basically balances itself out over time, but that is little consolation to those impacted right now.
“On one hand, we have food banks that can’t keep enough food stocked to serve everyone who needs it and then a benefit reduction is going on at the same time; and on the other hand, we have Ohio taxpayers who can’t afford it,” said Glassburn. “It’s really about jobs. Jobs are key — jobs and helping people to become more self-sufficient.”