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These two Ohio House bills could affect Ohioans’ access to food stamps

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Baker Food Pantry veggies. Photo by Will Meyer

Ohio House Bills 119 and 608 could make it harder to receive SNAP benefits.

Two Ohio House Bills would make applying for and receiving SNAP benefits more difficult, if passed. House Bills 608 and 119 have both been proposed in the Ohio legislature; House Bill 119 passed in the House last year and is up for consideration in the Senate.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federally funded welfare program designed to provide food for those missing out on essential nutrition. There is a list of items that can’t be purchased that includes alcohol, tobacco and hot foods that can be eaten in stores.

House Bill 119 addresses potential fraudulence at the hands of SNAP recipients, which occurs in three to four percent of recipients, by adding more steps to the application process. Fraud has been described by Jack Frech, former director of Athens County Job and Family Services, as a non-issue that creates more hoops for poor families to jump through.

“With respect to HB 119, the bill was designed to reduce fraud and make sure tax dollars go to those who need assistance,” Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said in an email to The Athens News. “It had six hearings in the House, and there was no opposition testimony. The bill was unanimously supported in committee and received bipartisan support on the House floor. It’s my understanding there has been no opponent testimony thus far in the Senate.”

Theresa Moran, a food justice professor at Ohio University, is strongly against both bills.

“I am dumbfounded because I can’t seem to understand the rationale behind this bill since the number of fraud cases are so low,” Moran said.

Able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) can receive SNAP for up to three months over a three year period without meeting work requirements. After that, ABAWDs have to work at least 80 hours per month to be eligible. The requirement can be also fulfilled through education and training programs.

In areas of high unemployment, states are able to waive the three month time period. HB 608 will remove the option for Ohio to waive the ABAWD employment and education requirement.

“We don’t have a strong job market here,” Moran said. “In light of that, there was a request by Athens County to waive that requirement in order to get food to people who needed the food.”

With respect to HB 608, Moran thinks that legislators are afraid of giving food to people who are unemployed.

“Cory Booker (a Democratic U.S. Senator from New Jersey) made a big, famous performance where he actually tried to live on food stamps within income limitations, and he tried to do it for two to three weeks,” Moran said. “And I always think, gee, if people want to cut SNAP, or restrict access to SNAP, maybe they should try living on SNAP.”

According to the 2016 Community Health Assessment from the Ohio Department of Health, 20 percent of people in Athens are food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to affordable, nutritious food, but only 14 percent of Athens County residents receive SNAP benefits.

A national survey conducted by the Wisconsin Hope Lab found that 36 percent of students at four-year universities are food insecure. Last year, the Division of Student Affairs at Ohio U conducted a survey that showed 29 percent of Ohio U students are food insecure.

Assistant Dean of Students Kathy Fahl, who runs the Baker Food Pantry, said that this was reflective of a national survey despite being a small sample.

“Any kind of limitation on accessing basic needs is not good for our students,” Fahl said.

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