By all accounts, Ohio in general and the Mahoning Valley in particular have a long road to hoe before reaching recovery from the destructive aftereffects of the Great Recession of five years ago.
The proof is in the numbers.
In 2013, the Second Harvest Foodbank of the Mahoning Valley donated 9.2 million pounds of food to about 15,000 individuals and families seeking help weekly, illustrating the continuing increase in hunger in our community.
Unemployment moved in precisely the wrong direction in 2013. Mahoning County’s average annual unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent in 2013 from 7.8 percent in 2012. In Youngstown proper, the average jobless rate worsened from 9.7 percent in 2012 to 10.1 percent last year.
In addition, more than one-third of Youngstown’s 66,000 people live in poverty, according to a report issued this month by the city’s Planning Department and the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp.
Poverty, unemployment and hunger clearly share a direct connection. That is why it’s likely premature for Ohio to end food-stamp assistance for tens of thousands of needy and desperate state residents. But that’s what the administration of Gov. John Kasich has chosen to do.
WORK-REQUIREMENT WAIVER ENDS
For the first time since the onset of the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, the executive branch of Ohio government has decided it no longer will seek exemption from tough work-to-eat rules for eligibility for the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps.
The state said about 140,000 adults who don’t have dependent children now can get the full assistance that averages about $190 per month only if they spend at least 20 hours working, attending class or job training, or volunteering each week.
Clearly the philosophy behind the governor’s action is noble. We, too, see no reason why able-bodied adult Ohioans should receive a free meal ticket from Uncle Sam if viable opportunities for work, training or education are available.
But as Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, points out, many Ohio counties expect a tenfold increase in work-participation slots needed to fulfill the requirement, but only an estimated 9,000 slots are available. Before terminating the work requirement, the state failed to ensure sufficient jobs and training programs were in place.
That predicament leaves the Kasich administration two options. It can work fervently with job assistance agencies, schools and apprenticeship programs to vastly increase opportunities for affected Ohioans to meet the new stringent requirements. Or it can recognize that Ohio’s economic recovery has not yet fully matured into the robust state Kasich and others would like it to be in and reapply for the work-rule exemption for calendar year 2014.
The new work requirement comes at a time when many of the same hungry and hopeless Ohioans are reeling from the loss of another lifeline, extended unemployment benefits. That loss, of course, falls directly into the laps of many members of our do-nothing Congress who have callously failed to restore the insurance to a growing corps of about 1.8 million Americans.
Finally, seeking an extension of the work-requirement waiver for food-stamp eligibility in Ohio would not represent an admission of failure on the part of Kasich. It merely would be a recognition of the reality that the state’s economy – while slowly improving — is still struggling, as the numbers above so bluntly prove. It also would be consistent with the governor’s long-standing commitment and support for hunger-relief programs, food banks and compassion for the state’s neediest residents.