For state senators looking for a rationale to undo the harm the state House seeks to inflict on Ohio’s network of food banks, we can easily point to 1,852,870 good reasons in Ohio, including 87,350 right here in the Mahoning Valley.
Those numbers reflect the rising number of people who have been identified in our state and region as “food insecure” in the newly released 2017 Map the Meal Gap study by Feeding America. Food insecurity, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, refers to individuals who have limited or uncertain access to nutritionally adequate food to stave off hunger.
As those numbers continue to grow, so, too, does the mission and needed resources of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which includes the good works of Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley.
That’s why we find recent action by the Ohio House of Representatives particularly peculiar, illogical and insensitive. In its version of the state’s 2018-19 biennium budget approved earlier this month, House members slashed state assistance to the food-bank network by $1 million for the biennium.
The proposed hit represents the first time in history that the regional food banks have faced the prospect of a funding cut. The Republican- dominated House budget would channel the funds pulled from OAFB to unidentified and unaffiliated food-assistance groups.
‘slap in THE face’ to needy
As Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the OAFB, put it: “Cutting funding for Ohio’s food banks for the first time in two decades and taking 5.5 million pounds of food out of our network, is a slap in the face to 3,300 hunger-relief organizations throughout the state who work tirelessly day in and day out to feed our needy friends and neighbors.” She added that the proposed cut also stands to hurt Ohio farmers who provide food targeted for Second Harvest and the 11 other regional food banks in the state.
If anything, all empirical and anecdotal evidence points to an increasing demand for hunger-relief assistance and therefore an increasing need for stabilized or increased supplies by food- assistance providers.
In Ohio, the number of senior citizens relying on food banks in the network has increased 20 percent in the past four years, according to the OAFB.
In the Valley, Second Harvest distributed a record 10.5 million pounds of food in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties in 2016.
Michael Iberis, executive director of Second Harvest of the Mahoning Valley and board member of OAFB, said, “With more than 87,000 food insecure people in the Mahoning Valley the food bank will continue its work with national and local donors to secure more food and funds to help meet this ever-growing need.”
PROVEN FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY
Beyond clearly demonstrated need, other reasons support keeping the budget-cutting blade away from OAFB’s state funding. They include the fiscal responsibility of economies of scale. The food banks’ commitment to operating on an economy of scale enables it to leverage the network for the most responsible, cost-effective use of state and federal tax dollars.
The OAFB, a partnership between its member food banks and their 3,300 food pantries and soup kitchens, can help far more hungry people by working together than on their own.
With that in mind, the impact of the loss becomes ever greater. “The loss of $1 million to our purchasing power means the loss of more than 5 million pounds of Ohio-grown apples, cabbage, potatoes, eggs, squash and corn for hungry Ohioans,” Hamler-Fugitt said.
What’s more, the timing of this proposed comes just as President Donald Trump is proposing massive cuts to social safety-net programs, including to hunger-assistance groups.
At the very least then, state senators should restore the static funding levels of 2016-17 proposed by Gov. John Kasich in his budget plan. Better yet, they could seriously study the OAFB’s proposal to enhance funding while streamlining and consolidating all hunger-assistance administration and funding under its umbrella.
The 87,000-plus food-insecure residents of the Valley and their supporters are counting on state senators to do the right thing.