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Proposed changes to food stamp program may impact Athens

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Baker Food Pantry veggies. Photo by Will Meyer

A proposal to change federal qualifications for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps, may have concrete impacts on Athens County’s food insecure population.

According to a White House proposal introduced this summer, SNAP applicants with income above 130% of the federal poverty level and those with more than $2,250 in assets will no longer qualify for food stamp benefits.

A recent analysis from a data think tank, Mathematica, showed that 61,000 Ohio households would no longer qualify for SNAP programs if the federal proposal were to be implemented. The average monthly SNAP payment per household in Ohio is currently $153.

The Columbus Dispatch recently reported that if the federal proposal were implemented, Ohio could no longer deem people eligible for food stamps if they have qualified for other government entitlement programs, such as disability services or veterans services. Ohio is one of 40 states nationwide which currently uses this method of eligibility.

A recent study by Ohio Job and Family Services reports that Athens County currently has 6,173 adult SNAP recipients. The average quarterly SNAP payment per recipient is $308. 

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service dictates federal food stamp programs, state and local communities are able to run supplemental food assistance programs.

Athens County, for example, has the volunteer-run Athens County Food Pantry. The food pantry is supplemented by the Operation Full Belly program, which provides additional bags of food to the pantry every day of the week. 

Food insecure populations in Southeast Ohio can also seek help from the Southeastern Ohio Food bank and Kitchen, which is run by Hocking Athens Perry Community Action (HAPCAP) and funded by the government at both the federal and state level. The department also takes donations from local organizations and community fundraisers. 

Andrew Mayle, food and nutrition director at the Southeastern Ohio Food Bank and Kitchen, said about 27,000 individuals take advantage of the region’s food bank every month. 

The food bank mainly serves elderly populations but also includes large child hunger initiatives. Mayle predicts if a large amount of people in Southeast Ohio are taken off food stamps, there may be a higher demand for the food bank and other meal services.

However, Jean Demosky, executive director of Athens County Job and Family Services, said there is no easy way to find out the value of assets individuals on SNAP may have, so there is no real way to tell how many people in Athens County may be taken off SNAP if the federal proposal is implemented.

Still, Demosky and her department have been trying to keep up with any possible federal changes that may impact food insecurity at the local level. 

“Any change that increases paperwork and prevents the most vulnerable people from getting assistance is an obstacle (Athens County Job and Family Services) would have to address if it comes to fruition,” Demosky said. “We will continue to do everything we can to provide as many services as possible to those in need.”

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