Over half a million children in Ohio live in poverty. Families who live in poverty are often forced to make impossible choices between basic needs. Prior to the current pandemic, nearly one in five children experienced persistent hunger and that number is only growing as more families are losing income, unemployment benefits, and the safety nets in our society are becoming thread bare. Oftentimes, our schools fill critical roles in our communities to help children get the daily nutrition they need. With over a third of children enrolled in these school-based nutrition programs, many children are at risk of going hungry every day leaving many children to lack consistent access to adequate food. The majority live in families with one or more working adults—but are still unable to consistently afford enough food to keep the wolves of hunger from their door.
There is no excuse for any child in America to go hungry and malnourished in the richest nation on Earth. Yet child hunger is a widespread, urgent and shameful problem that cannot wait. We all have to do something—now.
In 2016, Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio published an issue brief on early childhood hunger detailing the health and life risks thousands of Ohio’s youngest children suffer every day. Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers suffering hunger and malnutrition face increased odds of negative health outcomes during their years of greatest brain development. Food insecure children under age five are:
- Nearly two times more likely to be in “fair or poor health”;
- Nearly two times more likely to experience developmental delays;
- Two times as likely to have behavioral problems;
- More than twice as likely to be hospitalized;
- Two and a half times more likely to have headaches, and
- Three times more likely to have stomach aches.
Food insecure children are more likely to be behind in social skills and reading performance in kindergarten. By elementary school they are four times more likely to need mental health counseling. Risks keep accumulating: malnutrition from childhood food insecurity has been linked to adult diseases including diabetes, hyperlipidemia and cardiovascular disease. The stress and anxiety of early childhood hunger also make it harder to learn skills that help later relationship development, school success and workplace productivity.
Babies born to food insecure mothers face tragic odds: they are more likely to be born pre-term and at low birthweight and to struggle with breastfeeding which contributes to increased infant mortality rates. Babies who survive are more likely to struggle with disabilities during childhood and adolescence and face higher risks of chronic disease as adults. School-age food supports of free and reduced price breakfast and lunch are critically important to the health and academic success of older children but young children should not be forced to suffer from lack of food.
Child Hunger Increasing During Pandemic
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act provided support for families and children however much more must be done to address rising child hunger and poverty in the state and more Ohioans find themselves unemployed and lacking basic resources.
Ohioans are increasingly experiencing food insecurity. By the end of April, more than one in five households said their children were not getting enough to eat and two in five households made up of mothers with children under 12 were experiencing food insecurity. This is not an acceptable reality. Congress must take the following actions to ensure that our children and families do not suffer from hunger during this public health emergency.
Increase the SNAP maximum benefit amount and provide greater access to food for families using SNAP to meet their basic nutrition needs
SNAP benefits must be increased. A nationwide 15% increase in SNAP allotments and raise minimum benefits from $16 to $30 to improve access to nutritious foods for every SNAP household. Food stamp applications have surged as over 1.5 million Ohioans have lost their jobs. Prior to the pandemic 1.3 million Ohioans received SNAP benefits each month, and in the week ending April 11, about 29,334 new Ohioans applied for food stamp benefits—a 172% increase from April 2019.
We were recently introduced to Jami Clinkscale of Columbus. Jami relies on a $580 per month disability check to make ends meet. After COVID-19 hit, she went from feeding two people to six after taking in her grandchildren when their mother got evicted. Jami is struggling to feed her family on just $170 a month in SNAP benefits. She is often forced to supplement SNAP benefits with food pantries and skip meals so her grandchildren do not go hungry. As Jami said, “I’ve eaten a lot less just to make sure they get what they need.”
Jami’s experience today demonstrates that SNAP benefits are too low to adequately feed many families. SNAP benefits average only $1.40 per person a meal and almost half of families use their monthly allotments within the first few weeks of the month. With unemployment and hardship on the rise, families’ food budgets are only being stretched even further. We must urgently expand SNAP benefits to provide these families much-needed relief. Increasing SNAP benefits will not only help Ohioans keep food on the table, but will also stimulate Ohio’s economy as these dollars are spent at local retailers.
During this crisis and beyond, it is also critical that we allow greater access to food for SNAP families. To do this, the next Relief Package should
(1) provide families using SNAP benefits with the option to use their benefits to purchase hot food products ready for immediate consumption;
(2) suspend all SNAP administrative rules that would terminate or weaken benefits; and
(3) suspend the three-month SNAP time limit for unemployed adults without minors for the duration of the economic downturn. The Families First legislation only suspended these rules for the duration of the public health emergency, but an extension is needed to ensure coverage continues while the economy is weak and unemployment is high.
Lastly, the state of Ohio experienced significant job growth and was seeing positive economic signals before the pandemic. In a matter of months we have seen a dramatic spike in our unemployment numbers. It will take time to recover economically and for jobs to return and businesses to re-open. All SNAP administrative rules that would terminate or weaken benefits must be suspended for the remainder of the economic downturn.
Extend the Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) Program to provide continued relief to children and families
With over 1.6 million children learning from home during the months of March through the begiing of June, many children missed out on school breakfasts and lunches. Oftentimes and for many children, these meals are a critical source of nutrition during the school week. In response, the Ohio’s Pandemic-EBT program was approved in early May. The program, administered by ODJFS, provides up to $302.00 to students who are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals and pumps a total of $254 million directly into our economy. While these funds provide some financial relief for families struggling to put food on the table, they will not dissipate hunger over the summer months. Through the hard work of our state agencies to get the Pandemic-EBT program up and running, we have the infrastructure in place to provide additional funds to these food-insecure children and families.
In addition, P-EBT funds in Ohio only went out to K-12th graders, leaving behind our youngest children. P-EBT benefits should be extended to young children who received free or reduced-price meals in preschool and childcare programs.
As recently as July 30th, we have heard that counties throughout the state of Ohio began announcing that school districts within their boundaries and under their public health department authority will remain closed for a portion or the entire fall semester. With our school buildings remaining closed and students engaging in school through hybrid and distanced learning, they will once again be without nutrition support. We must continue the P-EBT program to make sure children and families have access to nutrition.
Ohioans are Increasingly Experiencing Food Insecurity, an Unacceptable Reality in 2020
The state of food insecurity in our country
May 8, 2020
By Katherine Ungar, JD Policy Associate
As a result of the public health emergency, food insecurity across the United States has drastically increased. By the end of April, more than one in five households say their children are not getting enough to eat, a rate three times higher than during the 2008 Great Recession. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food insecurity is one metric used to measure and assess the risk of hunger.
Food insecurity is a complex problem and often does not exist in isolation. Working families may face food insecurity for a countless number of reasons, including lay-offs at work, medical expenses, or an unexpected car accident or maintenance. The pandemic has exposed many families to this surprising and harsh reality.
Meeting Children’s Nutritional Needs in Uncertain Times
April 2, 2020
By Katherine Ungar, JD, Policy Associate and with contributions from Tziporah Tiller, College Intern
School breakfast and lunch programs provide our children much-needed nutritious meals so they can learn and be healthy. Children who come from food-insecure homes obtain a significant portion of their daily calories and nutrients from the meals they receive at schools. Programs like the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) ensure children receive meals at school. The NSLP has been shown to reduce childhood food insecurity, poor health, and obesity. National and state programs like NSLP are critical for the well-being of our children, particularly food insecure and low-income children. Read more here.
Ohio P-EBT Program: Visit this website for more information about the problem and to find out more about eligibility and benefits