Ohio food bank group faces $1M cut from state, including Springfield

State lawmaker says money will instead go to other agencies that feed the poor.

An amendment to the recently-approved Ohio House of Representatives state budget bill will shift about $1 million in funding from Ohio’s food banks to smaller agencies over the next two years, which food bank leaders say could be devastating for Springfield — one of the most food insecure cities in the state.

But a Springfield lawmaker says the money will still be used to feed the poor, but instead go through different, smaller agencies.

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The Ohio Association of Food Banks saw more than 3,300 agencies — a majority of which are faith-based — distribute more than 208 million pounds of food to more than 3.3 million households statewide during the 2016 fiscal year.

The agency received about $19.5 million annually during the last state budget bill. If the current state budget proposal is approved, the association would receive $19 million in each of the next two years, a total cut of about $1 million.

That’s the equivalent of 5.5 million pounds of food, association Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt said. She’s not sure who drafted the amendment or where it came from.

“We’re disappointed, certainly, at a time that we’re continuing to see an unsustainable demand on our system statewide,” she said.

The association will speak to state senators about restoring and possibly increasing its budget to meet demand, Hamler-Fugitt said.

The amendment is a slap in the face to many of those faith-based agencies, she said, many of which operate on less than $25,000 annually and work hard to feed hungry Ohioans.

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“They’re struggling just to keep their doors open,” Hamler-Fugitt said.

However state Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, said the money will instead be distributed to non-affiliated food pantries doing similar work but that don’t come under the association’s umbrella.

“We’re not cutting funding for food to the poor,” Koehler said. “We’re giving more than we’ve ever given before. We just decided to give a small amount of it to non-affiliated members.”

The association does a great job, said Koehler, who has supported Second Harvest Food Bank for years and annually attends its fundraisers. Koehler doesn’t the blame the association for wanting to keep every dime that’s been going to them for the funding, he said.

“We’re not trying to hurt them,” he said. “We’re just saying there other folks who are doing the same work, why shouldn’t they get some as well … I understand (the association) will have less money, but folks who are feeding the poor will not have less money.”

The Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign and Logan Counties is one of 12 members of the Ohio Food Banks Association.

It’s unclear how much the local food bank would be cut if the legislation were approved, Executive Director Tyra Jackson said. The lost revenue would result in an estimated cut of about 100,000 pounds of food and about 85,000 meals to the three-county area, according to numbers provided by Hamler-Fugitt.

“We’ll see a big hit to our produce that we receive,” Jackson said. “The smallest food banks, we’ll probably feel the effects the most. I’m not sure where it came from.”

The bill passed the Ohio House of Representatives last week. Jackson hopes the money will be restored in the Senate’s version of the bill.

“Hunger relief has always had bipartisan support,” she said. “We’re hoping they’ll see the importance of keeping us where we currently are.”

RELATED: Food insecurity hurts Clark County health

The need is huge, Jackson said. The food bank in Springfield sees about 100 to 200 new families each month.

“It’s not that perception that people think the same people are coming back over and over again,” Jackson said. “There is a need to use the food pantries and the mobile pantry to help make ends meet. Our need is continuing to grow. It looks like we could have some cuts, which could be devastating.”

The Springfield food bank distributed more than 5.8 million pounds of food last year, Jackson said. That equals about 4.8 million meals. In 2015, the food bank distributed more than 5.1 million pounds of food — the same year it was named the most food insecure city in Ohio.

The food insecurity rate in Clark County was about 16.3 percent in 2014, according to the Map the Meal Gap project completed annually by Feeding America — meaning more than 22,000 people here didn’t get the food they need. More than $10.4 million would be needed to fully meet the need for food in Clark County, the report says.

With less produce, Jackson said it will mean less healthy foods for struggling families and seniors. About one in four children in Ohio live in food insecure households, according to the food bank association, meaning their parents or guardians can’t afford nutritious food on their own.

MORE: Hunger increasing in Clark, Champaign counties

“Our numbers continue to increase and with this decrease in funding, it could mean less nutritional food in our community,” she said.

The association has also seen a 20 percent increase over the past four years for seniors who need food, the association said. They’ve also seen a rise in grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, Jackson said.

This year the food bank set a goal to provide healthier options to residents, Jackson said, especially at mobile food pantry events. They’ll have to shuffle things around to make sure they’re able to provide nutritional item.

“We know there’s a correlation to not having money and having different diseases,” she said. “We’re trying to do our part in putting out as much nutritional food as possible.”

By the numbers

5.8 million: Pounds of food distributed in the three-county region last year.

4.8 million: Meals distributed in the three-county region last year.

3.8 million: People eligible for food assistance in Ohio.

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