Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

As pandemic boost for SNAP ends, Ohio food banks worry

A group of about 20 people stand in a line along a sidewalk outside a food bank.
Karen Kasler
People wait in line outside the Mid-Ohio food bank in April of 2019. The Mid-Ohio Food Collective's Mike Cochran says the organization saw a 22% increase in need last year, and the end of federal food assistance, first introduced during the pandemic, will only make that need greater.

Ohio families who are enrolled in SNAP benefits, often called food stamps, will see their monthly allowances drop beginning this month.

Over the last two years, qualifying low-income households have received an additional $95 or more in SNAP benefits each month to counter the impact of COVID-19 on families. The federal aid expires this March, even as food banks report an increase in Ohioans facing food insecurity.

“What was so unexpected about the last year in 2022 was that the number of our neighbors, customers coming for service far outpaced what we saw in the peak of the pandemic,” said Mike Hochran of the Mid-Ohio Food Collective, Ohio’s largest food bank.

Food costs have sharply risen in the past year, with the costs of making food at home rising around 11% over the last year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

In 2022, the Mid-Ohio Food Collective saw a 33% increase in demand across the 20 counties it serves in central and eastern Ohio. Hochran said around 45% of those seeking help had never visited the food bank before.

Hochran worries that these numbers will rise with the end of the federal emergency allotments, which meant more than $120 million in additional aid each month for families in Ohio.

“We do assume that our work is going to be needed more than ever, and the next few months, in particular, could be a pretty difficult time,” Hochran said.

Ohioans who rely on fixed income checks, like seniors or people on disability, will be among the hardest hit, Hochran said. He estimates the monthly allowance for a retiree could drop by around $250.

Large families will also see a significant drop, as SNAP emergency allotments were calculated based on household size.

In order to qualify for SNAP benefits, a household’s total gross income must be at or below 130% of the federal poverty line.

“These are not households that have a lot of cushion in their budget,” Hochran said. “These are families that are going to have to make even more difficult choices.”

The Ohio Association of Food Banks estimates 3.1 million Ohioans visited food banks or food pantries in the last three months of last year, according to reporting by the Statehouse News Bureau.

The association noted in that piece that “food supply chain challenges and availability are continuing to create shortages and delays and demand on our systems and services to Ohioans are at an all time high."

Ohio is one of 32 states affected by Congress’s decision to end the temporary benefit. Other states, like neighboring Indiana and Kentucky, opted to end the emergency aid last year.

More than $120 million in additional aid went to families each month in Ohio.

Hochran said he hopes Ohio lawmakers took note of how pandemic-era programs, like the expanded SNAP assistance, helped families across the state during a difficult time.

“[It] could continue to benefit our neighbors, if our political leaders at the state and federal level are able to learn the good lessons of the pandemic,” Hochran said.

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.