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Hunger stats underscore Ohio's need for COVID-19 relief bill

Feeding America projects overall food insecurity in Ohio this year will top an unprecedented 18 percent.
food banks
(Ohio Association of Foodbanks)

COLUMBUS — The latest estimates on the prevalence of hunger in Ohio are strengthening the case for a new COVID relief bill in Congress.

The nonprofit group Feeding America has projected overall food insecurity in Ohio for 2020 tops 18 percent. Joree Novotny, director of external affairs for the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, said that's unprecedented.

"Food-security estimates for 2020 are scary," she said. "They're not like anything that we've seen in any modern times.

"We peaked in 2014 at a little under 17 percent," she said. "Prior to COVID 19, we were finally under the 14 percent mark, and COVID-19 has caused that to skyrocket."

The figures show hunger is more prevalent among kids, with more than one in four Ohio children living in families who don't always know how they'll pay for enough healthy food for their household.

Novotny contended that a federal COVID relief package is needed promptly, so people will be able to pay for basic necessities — food, health care and housing — as the pandemic continues.

Novotny said food pantries and other hunger-relief organizations are working overtime, adding that the longevity of the crisis is hindering efforts to distribute and deliver food.

"I just have to give so many kudos to our food banks," she said, "how they've adjusted almost everything that they do to make sure that they're providing access to food equitably, safely and in much greater numbers than we were prior to COIVD 19 — and, indeed, ever in our history."

However, emergency food assistance isn't enough to meet the need. Novotny explained that safety-net programs such as SNAP are designed to help families in times of crisis. That's why her group and others want to see a 15 percent boost to the maximum household SNAP benefit in any COVID relief bill.

"Ohioans can't wait," she said. "We really need a robust relief package that responds to all of the myriad challenges that our families are facing."

She said she thinks a comprehensive relief bill also should include additional commodities for emergency food assistance, and address the impending risk of increasing homelessness.