‘God doesn’t want people to be hungry:’ advocates ask Ohio Senate for more funding for foodbanks
Advocates focused on ending hunger in Ohio gathered at the Statehouse Thursday for the Praying for our Daily Bread Faith Leaders luncheon to discuss solutions in the state’s proposed operating budget.
The Ohio Association of Foodbanks would be funded $39,550,000 a year, as distributed by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services under the House’s version of the budget, but advocates are asking the Senate to increase funding to $50 million per year. The budget is in the hands of the Senate and must be signed by June 30 for it to take effect on July 1, the first day of the new state fiscal year.
“Things are getting really hard for all of us, but even worse for our most vulnerable and our foodbanks are being called upon to fill the gap,” said Hope Lane-Gavin, the director of nutrition policy and program at Ohio Association of Foodbanks.
About 1.4 million people face hunger in Ohio, including 412,000 children.
“This should not be a Democrat or Republican issue to make sure people can eat because if we care about economic development, if we care about workforce shortage, how can people do any of that without eating?” asked rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Westlake.
Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer of the Ohio West Area of The United Methodist Church mentioned several gospel passages that showed Jesus’ concern for those dealing with food insecurity.
“God doesn’t want people to be hungry,” he said. “We care about kids. I’m not suggesting they are the only hungry ones, but they are even more vulnerable because often their voices are not developed yet, not just because of age, but actually because of lack of proper nutrition.”
Senior Food Incentive
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government temporarily expanded its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and older adults saw their monthly SNAP increase to triple digits. But soon those benefits for 70,000 older Ohioans will go back down to the pre-pandemic amount of $23 per month.
Advocates are calling on legislatures to offer a Senior Food Incentive for seniors on SNAP to up their state minimum to $50 a month, instead of $23.
“We really need it,” Lane-Gavin said. “High inflation has wiped out many gains Ohioans have made.”
The House version of the budget added funding for reduced-price-eligible students in Ohio schools and requires the Ohio Department of Education to reimburse school districts so that all school breakfasts and lunches are free for those that fall under the reduced-price eligibility requirements.
This change from the initial executive proposal happened after school nutrition leaders urged legislators to provide more funding to feed children and prevent the stigma children face when identified as eligible for the low-income programs.
“We need to make sure that no student goes hungry in our schools,” Sweeney said. “You are not learning trigonometry or you’re not learning how to read if you are hungry.”
Kim Eckhart, interim director of the Children’s Defense Fund Ohio, said while it would be ideal to have a universal school meal program, an alternative idea would be making breakfast free at schools.
“Those families that need that, they are going to get to school early if they are hungry,” she said. “Many children, especially in high school, will just go without food. We want to make sure that is no longer an issue.”
Sweeney said it would cost $26 million in the state’s budget for every student in Ohio to get a free breakfast at school.
To put that in perspective, she brought up Wednesday’s controversial House vote that advanced a resolution that would ask voters in a $20 million August special election to raise the passage threshold for constitutional amendments.
“Comparatively, for what we’re talking about (free breakfast in schools), it isn’t that much money,” Sweeney said. “Clearly, it’s not that much money if we can do an unnecessary election with it.”
When the pandemic first hit, Congress allowed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement child nutrition waivers in March 2020, which allowed schools to be reimbursed at higher rates for serving free food to all students, regardless of family income.
That program expired last summer, causing the number of families struggling with school meal debt to rise, Eckhart said.
Even though the free school meals was through the federal government, she said she would love to see the state government enact something similar.
“We just want school to be a place where everybody can come around the table and share a meal and there’s no distinction (between students who have free and reduced lunches and those who don’t),” Eckhart said to a round of applause.
All People’s Fresh Market
Katelin Hansen, executive minister for United Methodist Church For All People, talked about All People’s Fresh Market on Columbus’ South Side, which provides fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products to households making less than 200% of the federal poverty level — $27,180 for a one-person household and $55,500 for a four-person household.
All People’s Fresh Market served about 200 people a week when it first started back in 2012 and today it serves 300-400 people a day, she said.
“Everything we give away is healthy food,” Hansen said. “Everyone wants to eat healthy food. Everyone wants to live a long life. No one wants to be sick.”
Thursday’s luncheon was hosted by the Hunger Network in Ohio, the Ohio Council of Churches and the Dominican Sisters of Peace.
This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.
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