Ohio’s urban counties, including Franklin, and its poorest, rural counties report the highest instances of food insecurity in the state, which leads the entire Midwest in the category, according to a new study by a network of the nations food banks.
Rural Athens County led the state, reporting a food-insecurity rate of 19.3 percent. Neighboring Meigs reported a rate of 16.5 percent — a rate shared by the state’s most populous county and the seat of state government, Franklin.
Cuyahoga County led urban counties, reporting 18.4 percent, while the remaining urban counties one percentage point or less.
According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap 2019, food insecure Ohioans report on average that they fall short about $15.50 per person, each week when it comes to their food budgets. For a family of three, that’s about $200 a month.
The report estimated an average meal in Ohio costs $2.76, requiring a monthly budget of $750 to purchase groceries for a family of three — an amount of reach for many of the poorest Ohioans.
“From Appalachian Ohio to the metro areas, Ohioans face steep challenges in making their incomes stretch to cover all of their expenses,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. “Food is the one part of their budget they can cut out if they have to when the other bills come due and they have to put gas in the car to get to work. But all of us suffer when our neighbors and friends are eating cheaper, less nutritious food or even skipping meals to get by.”
Hamler-Fugitt acknowledged that rates have improved slowly along with the decade-long economic recovery.
The state rate of 14.5 percent, however, remains much higher than the national rate of 12.5 percent and that of the Midwest at 11.4 percent.
The study found that food insecurity is higher among households with children, with about one in five Ohio children suffer from food insecurity. Still higher rates are reported in several rural counties.
“A family of three with two full-time working parents earning $9 an hour each make too much money to qualify for SNAP,” she said. “Yet, after paying for housing costs, transportation, medical costs and child care, they have little to nothing left to purchase food.
“These families are turning to our hunger relief network, not as an emergency, but as a recurring lifeline.”
She estimated nearly half of all food-insecure Ohioans — about 829,000 people — make too much to qualify for SNAP, leaving them reliant on food pantries and soup kitchens.
“Food insecurity is a complicated issue that will take big-picture, forward thinking to solve,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “As foodbanks, we can’t give low-wage workers a raise or bring down housing costs or increase access to affordable health care or public transportation.
“We’re counting on policymakers to continue focusing on those long-term solutions to household stability. But we can do our part to make sure that every person in Ohio has access to three wholesome meals each day.”
The Ohio Association of Foodbanks currently seeks increased funding in the 2020-21 state biennial budget to support a Comprehensive Approach to Hunger Relief — a $30 million per year request.