Food assistance – the most important tool in battling poverty

 Have you ever been in a position where you were unsure if you could feed your children?

Fortunately, I have not. I cannot imagine how scary that would be. I can’t imagine the heartache of seeing hungry children look to me for something I could not provide.

For many parents, it is a monthly reality. Even though they work, they don’t earn enough to afford the monthly bills and put food on the table every night. They turn to Hamilton County Job and Family Services for help.

They are not alone. More than 42 million Americans benefit from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It helps them feed themselves and their families when money is short.

Our agency was fortunate to be able to host the Supplemental Education and Training Urban 14 Workshop this month. Workers from throughout the Midwest visited Cincinnati to learn more about serving food assistance recipients, from ensuring accuracy and reducing fraud to modernizing to improving the experience around work requirements. We were happy to show the Queen City to more than 200 out-of-towners and even happier to have in-depth discussions around the crucial topic of food assistance.  

The overwhelming majority of people who benefit from the food assistance program are children and elderly adults, but it is open to anyone who needs a helping hand. Food assistance recipients earn 130 percent of the federal poverty level or less to be eligible. That means a family of four must earn less than $32,000 annually to be eligible. That family would receive a maximum monthly allotment of about $650, or about $21 a day, to feed their family.

Hamilton County’s food assistance population grew from 77,000 in 2008 to nearly 150,000 at times up to year 2016. That is more than double! Many of these people were new to the world of public assistance and ended up at the door of Hamilton County Job and Family Services because they had lost a long-time job during the recent recession. Even if they were able to find work, it was often in a job paying less than what they were used to, and they turned to food assistance to help fill the gap between their monthly income and monthly expenses.

Those who visited Cincinnati for our conference said they experienced similar trends in their communities.

In the last couple of years, we have started to drop and now stand at about 125,000 recipients. Still a big number – one in six in our community.

When I think about them, I think about not being able to feed my own child. Each of these recipients is a face, a person, many with a family, our neighbor, who is depending on Hamilton County Job and Family Services for help with monthly nutrition. We are the difference between their children going hungry or these parents experiencing the routine joy of providing for their family.

We often get caught up in the mundane day-to-day work of checking eligibility and running numbers and dotting I’s and crossing T’s and we forget about those faces. We forget about what it means for someone to be able to put food on the table for their children. 

I encourage you not to forget. I encourage you to remember 42 MILLION Americans rely on food assistance so they can eat each month. I encourage you to remember the food assistance program is the nation’s most important tool in battling poverty. 

This program is important. It feeds children and the elderly. It makes a difference in someone’s life.

by Jane Prendergast

Filed Under: From the Director

Tagged: food assistance, hamilton county department of job and family services, hamilton county job and family services, moira weir