Every year with the holiday season comes a greater demand for emergency food in the region served by the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. While most Northeast Ohioans are gearing up for snowy weather and holiday shopping, one in seven individuals in our community are worrying about where they might get their next meal. The lack of regular access to food, or food insecurity, becomes much more stressful as the weather gets colder; the cost to heat a home increases, winter illnesses start to spread and transportation can become more difficult. Along with these stressors comes the pressure of creating a warm and healthy holiday for loved ones. This is the time of year our food pantries and hot meal sites see individuals and families who have not needed help all year long, but struggle to make ends meet as the holidays and cold weather arrive.
But this year is different. Demand is going to become much higher after November 1, 2013, when all Americans who receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (otherwise known as SNAP or food stamps) will receive 5% less in benefits as a result of the expiration of stimulus funds provided by the American Recovery Act. For most Ohio households, the cut will mean a reduction in benefits of around $36 per month.
Another change that will impact those in our community who receive SNAP, is the return of the work requirement in Ohio. Effective October 1, 2013, childless adults (age 18-49), who are not disabled, are required to work or be in a work program in order to receive SNAP for more than three months every three years.
These changes are a source of concern across our network, as agencies already geared up for the busy season may be seeing much greater demand than in years past. That is why the Foodbank and its agencies are encouraging anyone receiving SNAP benefits to contact their local Department of Job and Family Services first to find out how they will be impacted by the changes. Anyone looking for a hunger-relief agency in their neighborhood can visit the Foodbank's Need Food page.
On top of these changes already in place, more cuts to SNAP, as many as $4 billion per year, are expected as a new Farm Bill is drafted. The federal nutrition safety net is extremely important to food insecure people in our community, and serves mostly households with children, seniors and the disabled. Even though the Foodbank has increased distribution every year for ten consecutive years, and national enrollment in SNAP has increased, our region is still home to 223,020 food insecure people, and we are not okay with that.
People often ask us "when will we end hunger in our community?" And we have no timeline to answer that question. We can only speak for today, knowing that each day we distribute more than 72,000 meals from our docks. We can speak for every $1 we receive, knowing that it will provide four meals to a person in need. We can speak for our thousands of volunteers and donors who help us distribute to 180,000 different people each year. And today, with concern for the federal nutrition safety net, we speak for our advocates, knowing that each phone call made or letter written to our legislators may have an impact in protecting our most vulnerable citizens. This year, your Foodbank needs you more than ever, and we ask that you please continue to donate, to volunteer and to become an advocate to help us Feed People and Fight Hunger.
If you have any questions or want to become more involved with our advocacy program, please contact Colleen Benson, Manager Foundation and Government Relations at CBenson@acrfb.org.