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High cost of food has increased worries over 'benefits cliff'

The produce section of the supermarket. Bags of apples sit in three rows on the left. Stone fruit lines shelves in the background.
Steve Buissinne
With the expiration of pandemic-era additional food assistance, anti-hunger advocates are even more worried about the so-called "benefits cliff."

At the end of February, a pandemic-era boost to SNAP benefits, often called food stamps, ended, and around 600,000 Ohioans lost a chunk of their food budgets. Anti-hunger advocates say the loss, combined with inflation and higher food prices, makes the so-called “benefits cliff” even more precarious than usual. Food Reporter Alejandro Figueroa reported the story for The Ohio Newsroom station WYSO in Dayton and joined Today from The Ohio Newsroom to explain.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

On the definition of the “benefits cliff”

“It’s basically when someone receives public benefits – that could be SNAP, WIC, child care, Medicare – from the government, and maybe they get a better job that pays more or they get promoted, and then they find out that they make too much money to receive the benefits that they were receiving. They make more money but they’re not making enough money to sustain themselves or their families.”

On how common it is

“There was a study by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce in 2019, it found that 20% of employers in Ohio had problems with hiring, promoting or increasing wages for their workers, just because those workers were worried about losing some – if not all – of their benefits if they took that new job or new wage increase.”

On why advocates are worried now

“Food is more expensive, and it’s not just food: it’s utilities, it’s rent. Some of those things have gone down a little bit from earlier this year or last year, but you still see that sort of consistent looming high cost of food, which is very difficult for a family who is already not making enough money.”

On possible solutions

“Some of the people that I’ve spoken to want to see three main things. One of them is in the farm bill, which is up for renewal this year. On the federal level, advocates want to see the income limit for SNAP go up so more families qualify.

At the state level in Ohio, some groups want to see the state’s earned income tax credit be refundable. Ohio is just one of a handful of states where currently it’s not refundable.

There’s also the Benefit Bridge pilot program, [where] a case worker essentially works with a family to meet savings goals and when they meet those goals, they get more money for family expenses. The program currently runs in 12 counties and they want the state to keep funding that program and essentially expand it to all the counties across Ohio.”

Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for Ohio Newsroom member station WYSO.