Ohio should act fast to close SNAP gap for poor

Akron Beacon Journal: Federal and state officials acted responsibly when they conducted the early release of food assistance for February. They did so to avoid deep reductions in benefits if the partial federal government shutdown extended into a third month. Fortunately, the shutdown ended after an unnecessary 35 days. That doesn’t mean recipients of food assistance, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are in the clear. The early issuance has created a new problem. Many recipients will go 40 days or more before receiving the next monthly issuance.

These are vulnerable households, including 1.8 million Ohioans, already facing tight family budgets. Those additional days before food assistance arrives promise hardship. In that way, federal and state officials should be prepared to intervene with the resources required to help people cover the SNAP gap.

The gaps reflect the staggered release of food assistance. The early issuance of February benefits came Jan. 16 and thus departed from the usual pattern. Many Ohioans now must wait until after March 10 or March 15 to see their benefits. Why not just budget accordingly? The reality is that many recipients spend their food assistance soon after they receive it. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities cites a federal study showing that households typically redeem more than one-half of their benefits within one week. More, the assistance hardly rates as excessive. In Ohio, the average monthly benefit is $122.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers could issue emergency food assistance as they do in the wake of natural disasters. The state could tap its funds, the need in this instance infinitesimal compared to the nearly $3 billion in the rainy-day fund. Gov. Mike DeWine could take steps to see that one-time money is available to food banks to ensure they have adequate supplies.

Food assistance isn’t something limited to narrow patches of the state. Every county has recipients. In Summit, the number is 13 percent of the population. In Cuyahoga, it’s 17 percent; Ashtabula and Mahoning, 18 percent. Head south, and the share in Muskingum is 20 percent, with Scioto and Pike at 24 percent. One-half of Ohio households receiving food assistance have at least one child under age 18. If children go hungry, their educations are impaired. So it is imperative that federal and state leaders pay attention. The harmful fallout from the government shutdown includes a food assistance gap they must be ready to address.

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