COLUMBUS – Hunger is a harsh reality for thousands of Ohioans.
New U.S. Department of Agriculture data finds that 16.9 percent of households in the state are unsure when or where they’ll get their next meal, and that the food insecurity rate in Ohio is higher than the national average as well as that of any other Midwestern state.
Joree Novotny, director of communications for the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, said the emergency food network and state leaders have stepped up to respond to the need, but it’s like putting a Band-Aid on larger problems.
“We just simply can’t make up for other factors like stagnant wages, consistently subpar median household incomes, cuts to critical programs and services,” she said. “This is just a shift in how our economy is working.”
Novotny contended that hunger is a symptom of poverty and that better state and federal policies are needed to lift struggling families into the economic recovery.
Ohio ranked sixth nationally for the highest rate of food insecurity, behind only Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky and Texas.
As executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, Bill Faith said, he sees many working families unable to make ends meet because the state’s wages are lagging behind the nation’s, and social supports are difficult to find.
“You can get help with your health insurance now,” he said. “People can get help with food stamps – at least some people can. But it’s very difficult to get any kind of direct assistance from the government for meeting your basic living costs.”
Faith said he believes many policies aimed at reducing poverty actually don’t benefit people on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on tax cuts that primarily benefit people that are well off,” he said. “But we haven’t spent a lot of time on what we can do to really help those that are struggling to make ends meet.”
Several advocacy groups are launching Ohio Poverty Awareness Week next week to draw attention to issues contributing to hunger and poverty and to open a constructive conversation about possible solutions.
September is also Hunger Action Month.
The data is online at ers.usda.gov/media.