Ohio Senate’s budget scraps $15 million boost for food banks

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB/Report for America) — The Ohio Senate has significantly reduced funding for state food banks in its version of the state operating budget.

The Ohio House has proposed giving food banks an additional $15 million in the upcoming biennial budget. The money would help food banks and pantries across the state manage an ongoing spike in demand due to inflation and expiring COVID-era benefits.

However, the Ohio Senate has cut that extra funding from its version of the budget — while adding mandatory photo IDs to SNAP cards, which analysts say will cost the same amount.

“One is left to wonder whether they cut the $15 million out of food banks in order to fund this bureaucratic, useless piece of, you know, of bureaucracy,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

Hamler-Fugitt said other states have rejected similar photo ID measures as costly and unnecessary.

The Senate’s budget would keep funding for food banks unchanged for the next two years. This would, in effect, be a cut to the state’s food bank network, as food prices have increased significantly since the last budget passed.

Shelves at the Southeast Ohio Foodbanks warehouse in Logan are almost entirely empty
The Southeast Ohio Foodbank has been struggling to keep its shelves stocked since the summer of 2022. The cuts proposed in the Senate’s draft budget may worsen the shortage. [Max Brunke | WOUB]
“I was a little surprised,” said Eva Bloom of the Southeast Ohio Foodbank. She said she and others had asked state senators for more support and received positive feedback, albeit without firm commitments.

“We certainly felt that they understood the work that we were doing and the need that we were filling,” Bloom said.

Bloom said the Senate’s budget would shrink the Southeast Ohio Foodbank’s supplies by about 10%.

“So that’s 500,000 meals, essentially, that we wouldn’t be providing to the region” this year compared to last, she said.

Those losses would occur at a time when demand on food banks and pantries is shooting upwards.

“These are folks that stand in our food lines, who work every day, and they play by the rules. These are the direct care workforce that we all depend on,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “They don’t earn enough to be able to stand in a grocery store checkout line. They’re standing, in increasing numbers, trying to get food at a local food bank, food pantry or soup kitchen.”

This is not the final version of the state budget, and it is possible that the additional $15 million will be restored. Bloom said she hopes residents will contact their elected officials to express support for Ohio food banks while the House and Senate continue to negotiate.

Gov. Mike DeWine has until June 30 to sign the final budget into law.