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

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 a Butler County food bank leader says could be devastating for a region already struggling with food insecurity.

The Ohio Association of Foodbanks saw more than 3,300 agencies distribute more than 208 million pounds of food to more than 3.3 million households statewide during the 2016 fiscal year.

MORE: Butler County encouraged to ‘Stamp Out Hunger’ on May 13 

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, said Ohio Rep. Margy Conditt, R-Liberty Twp.

The food bank budget remains the same, but in the past, all that funding went to the state association of foodbanks. The House version, she said, reallocates 2.5 percent, or $500,000 a year, to pantries outside the state network.

The goal of this provision in the budget is to better serve those who live in rural areas who are under-served by the state’s foodbank system, and to appropriate funding to other food banks that could utilize state resources for the services they also provide Ohioans, Conditt said.

The reduction of $1 million equates to 5.5 million pounds of food, said Tina Osso, executive director of Shared Harvest in Fairfield, one of the 12 members of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. If the proposed cuts are implemented, Osso said Shared Harvest would lose 298,000 pounds of food, or 250,000 meals.

Residents are already struggling, Osso said. Those jobs lost during the 2008 Recession never returned, and residents who found jobs are paid lower salaries today than nine years ago.

On average, Ossso said, those who use Shared Harvest resources are skipping 10 meals a month, a dangerous trend.

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BY THE NUMBERS

9.2 million: Meals provided by Shared Harvest in the five counties in 2015

7 million: The Meal Gap in the five counties in 2015

8.4 million: Additional pounds needed by Sharved Harvest in 2015

3.8 million: People eligible for food assistance in Ohio

SOURCE: Map the Meal Gap 2015

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Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the state’s foodbank association, said the money cut from the agency would be redirected to unaffiliated food pantries around the state. The association will speak to state senators about restoring and possibly increasing its budget to meet demand, Hamler-Fugitt said.

“Let me be clear: feeding Ohioans who are hungry is our priority, and we firmly support those both inside and outside our network who shared that same goal,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “Our concerns about this amendment come from our commitment to operating on an economy of scale and to leveraging our network for the most responsible, cost-effective use of state and federal dollars.”

Osso agrees.

“We’re in the battle together to fight hunger,” said Osso, who added the foodbank has “purchasing power” that affords it lower prices and higher accountability.

Her message to legislatures: Restore the proposed $1 million in cuts while still funding food pantries outside the agency. Find more money, she said.

That sounds easy, she was told.

“Nothing is ever as easy as it sounds,” she said while sitting in her office. “And I would hate to be in their position because they do have to make hard choices. But the truth of the matter is, just like the air we breathe, if people don’t have enough food to eat, we never will be able to pull ourselves up and out of poverty.”

Shared Harvest serves five counties: Butler, Warren, Preble, Darke and Miami. According to the Map the Meal Gap from 2015, the most recent available, residents in all those counties are under served. Osso said residents needed 16 million meals and were provided 9 million, a “meal gap” of 7 million, she said. To serve those residents, Shared Harvest would need 8.4 million more pounds of food.

In Middletown, the “economic climate” isn’t improving and that translates to more residents needing assistance, said Maurice Maxwell, executive director of Family Service of Middletown. He said the agency is averaging about 700 in-takes money, which means 3,000 family members are being service. That’s about a 5 percent increase over the same time last year, he said.

He said Family Service “depends heavily” on Shared Harvest, and said cuts at the state level eventually will be felt locally.

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