A passing glance at the Ohio Association of Community Action Agen- cies’ report “State of Poverty in Ohio 2014” provides chilling evidence that the highly touted economic recovery in our state continues to bypass hundreds of thousands among us.
That report issued last fall, reinforced by myriad other studies and analyses, presents in-your-face data proving that Ohio has a long way to go toward improving its shamefully high levels of poverty, hunger and hopelessness. It also serves as a springboard onto which public- and private-sector helping agencies should jump into overdrive to better respond to the growing challenges. One small piece of that effort should include beefed-up assistance from state government.
Consider just a few of the bleak findings from the poverty report, based on an assortment of the latest state and federal data:
Some 788,000 Ohio children — 43 percent of all students statewide — receive subsidized meals. That’s enough to fill Ohio State’s mammoth stadium in Columbus seven times over.
Thirty-two percent of Ohioans have experienced at least two consecutive months of living below the poverty line in the past three years.
In the Mahoning Valley, 95,626 individuals live in poverty. Of that total, 41 percent of African-Americans and 60.5 percent of single mothers with children have fallen into that abyss.
What’s more, the pockets of poverty in our state and region have expanded dramatically since the turn of the 21st century. Suburban indigence has skyrocketed. According to OACAA, while the poverty rate in Youngstown has increased 21 percent since 2000, the poverty rate for the city’s suburbs has skyrocketed a whopping 60.5 percent in the same time frame.
STATE HELP NEEDED
Armed with such compelling evidence, the Ohio Association of Foodbanks has issued a plea to Ohio legislators who are fine-tuning the state’s $78 billion budget for 2016 and 2017: In the face of rising poverty, government’s assistance to the hungry must respond in kind.
Unfortunately, however, the proposed spending plan keeps assistance to the network of food banks, including the Second Harvest Foodbank of the Mahoning Valley, flat at the 2014-15 level of $14.5 million. The OAF and other advocates for the poor recommend a $5.5 million annual boost to $20 million per year.
That request is reasonable and one that Mahoning Valley legislators and all state lawmakers should embrace. After all, it represents an infinitesimally tiny fraction — five-hundredths of 1 percent — of the total budget. Given that food banks can parley 15 meals from a $1 bill through its creative financing and funding partnerships, the benefits of the additional $11 million over two years would be significant.
Of course, the privately driven network of food banks does not count on taxpayer dollars to any great extent. The overwhelming majority of its funding comes from private donations from individuals, foundations, corporations and organizations. The largest segment of its public funding flows from government reimbursements for U.S. Department of Agriculture programs the food banks administer.
Still, the scope of poverty and hunger in this state is so pervasive that our elected senators and representatives cannot in good conscience turn a blind eye to the resulting pain and suffering. The small increase in funding to the state’s honorable and fiscally responsible food banks would represent a good-faith acknowledgement of the crisis and one tangible action to ease the devastation poverty produces.
For the 95,626 poor constituents in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties who stand to benefit directly from the increase, state lawmakers from the Valley should lead the drive toward speedy and successful adoption of these critically needed funds.