Fifty Years After The ‘War On Poverty,’ Many Survive Solely On SNAP Benefits

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The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, is designed to provide just 75 percent of a household’s nutritional needs. But what happens when it becomes a sole source of income?

According to a recent report by the United States Department of Agriculture, that’s the reality for many in Ohio and nationwide. Of Ohio’s 880,000 households that receive SNAP benefits, 185,000 (or 21 percent) had no “earned or unearned” income. Earned income refers to wages, salaries or self-employment. Unearned income can mean veterans benefits, unemployment compensation, workers compensation or other government programs.

The report comes nearly 50 years after President Lyndon Johnson proposed his “War on Poverty” during his inaugural address in 1964. It also comes in the midst of the current debate in Congress of whether to reauthorize the SNAP program.

In a news release, Jack Frech, director of Athens County Job and Family Services, said the plight of these families has “not been a significant part of the debate, even though having no cash is clearly the most serious challenge facing real families.”

The statistics were released last month in the USDA’s annual report that reviews the accuracy of SNAP data. The report, called the USDA SNAP Quality Control Annual Report of 2012, also revealed 21.27 percent of SNAP households nationwide had no other income. In Washington, D.C., it’s a whopping 32.7 percent.

“This report is clear evidence of the failure of the financial ‘safety net,’” Frech added.

The reason for this varies, Frech explained. Some people may be disabled yet unable to get approved for their disability benefits in a timely manner (it can take over a year to get approved). Many others were “thrown off the rolls,” as Frech put it, in an attempt to meet federal work requirements.

“Ohio has contributed to this problem of poor households having no cash income by reducing the Ohio Works First cash assistance rolls by over 100,000 recipients, including over 60,000 children since January 2011,” Frech continued. “Ohio has been throwing families off cash assistance for three years. This report is evidence that those families did not get jobs. Their lives have become a daily struggle for survival.”

SNAP benefits can be used to purchase food, so long as the recipient meets certain work requirements.

The USDA report’s data doesn’t drill down to the county level. But, according to the Public Assistance Monthly Statistics Report published by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, close to 11,000 (or 17 percent) of Athens County’s population receives SNAP benefits.

Instead of cutting, Frech argues Congress should increase SNAP benefits to cover 100 percent of a household’s nutritional needs.

“We should be taking care of people who are disabled and families that are unable to support themselves,” he said.