By: Hope Lane, Public Policy & External Affairs Associate and
Emily Campbell, Associate Director and Williamson Family Fellow for Applied Research
While emergency allotments in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were never meant to be a permanent fixture, their extension through the end of the federal public health emergency will ensure all Ohioans have a greater opportunity to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the COVID crisis recedes, more than 700,000 Ohioans remain food insecure.
As the COVID crisis recedes, more than 700,000 Ohioans remain food insecure, meaning they did not have enough food to eat at least some of the time during the previous week. Data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau between June 9-21, 2021 showed that around 1 out of every 11 Ohio adults had been food insecure. As shown in the charts below, Ohioans between the ages of 25 and 39, who have lower levels of educational attainment, who are Hispanic or Latinx or who have household incomes between $25,000 and $50,000 per year were most likely to not have enough food to eat at least some of the time.
The poorest Ohioans, or those with household incomes below $25,000 per year, were less likely to be food insecure in June than those who earn slightly more. This could be because very-low-income families are benefitting from additional food assistance that began coming to Ohioans during the pandemic, including emergency allotments. Data indicates that food insecurity is slightly less of a problem today than at the beginning of the pandemic when emergency allotments were just beginning to be processed and the food supply chain was severely disrupted. However, other factors continuing to contribute to food insecurity in Ohio are the rising cost of food, food deserts, and persistent unemployment.
By May 2021, emergency allotments raised payment levels for every SNAP household, allowing low-income families to use less of their limited budgets on food and more on other necessities including rent, utilities and non-food items such as gas, clothes and toiletries. While SNAP is known to help struggling families, having decreased the poverty rate by nearly 8 percent in 2009 during the height of The Great Recession, the pre-pandemic SNAP program was not sufficient to provide a nutritionally adequate diet for many working households. Recognizing the impact SNAP benefits can have on food security and poverty, the Biden Administration quickly advocated for Pandemic EBT to continue through the summer of 2021 and followed up on the 2018 Farm Bill requirement that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) revisit the Thrifty Food Plan, the key component for determining the benefit amount for SNAP recipients. The Thrifty Food Plan has been heavily criticized for decades for being based on unrealistic expectations and thus weakening the effectiveness of SNAP in addressing food insecurity and other anti-poverty outcomes. If USDA moves quickly to evaluate the plan and raise the base SNAP payment, the change could lessen the COVID cliff expected when a slew of emergency programs expire abruptly, such as pandemic unemployment benefits which ended June 26, and make for a more equitable economic recovery.
Thanks to a federal regulatory change this spring which expanded SNAP emergency allotments to all SNAP recipients, close to $130 million per month is coming to Ohio,
As some sectors begin to recover, we know that recovery will not be equal in all parts of the state and not for all families. Whether a person was able to maintain their employment throughout the pandemic or is just returning to work, supply chains and markets are far from normal. The construction industry, for example, remains in limbo due an epic shortage of lumber, car manufacturing remains at a standstill because of a semiconductor shortage and many low-wage workers and communities that rely on tourism and public gatherings will continue to suffer for years to come.
The economics of SNAP are straightforward: individuals confirmed to be in need are provided a monthly benefit for food which can be redeemed at participating grocery retailers throughout the recipient’s community. Thanks to a federal regulatory change this spring which expanded SNAP emergency allotments to all SNAP recipients, close to $130 million per month is coming to Ohio, with an estimated economic impact of $205 million. The true economic value from temporary emergency hunger assistance is likely much higher because this total does not include the 15 percent increase in maximum SNAP benefit or Pandemic EBT for students eligible for free or reduced school lunch.
Families in every county in Ohio benefit from SNAP and are receiving emergency allotments. The rough estimates presented below are based on the latest available data on recipients by county, which was just prior to the emergency assistance expansion. At that time, 61 percent of Ohio households on SNAP received emergency allotments. The rest were already receiving the maximum benefit for their household so were not eligible for these emergency allotments until the change went into effect, with those benefits rolling out in May 2021. As described in more detail below, the estimates assume that emergency allotments are spread evenly throughout the state.
Estimated Number of Households Receiving SNAP Emergency Allotments (EA) and Total EA Benefits by County, April 2021
|Issuance County||EA Households (Estimate)||EA Amount (Estimate)|
|South Central (Hocking, Ross, Vinton)||7,060||$1,339,207|
Maintaining emergency allotments assures that money won’t be left on the table that would have otherwise boosted the local and state’s economic activity.
Maintaining emergency allotments assures that money won’t be left on the table that would have otherwise boosted the local and state’s economic activity. This cycle creates positive and more direct economic effects for many, including farmers and local retailers that sell food, and indirect effects filter through the rest of the economy. It is well documented that child nutrition and academic achievement are closely linked. Child hunger due, to insufficient food intake, is associated with lower grades, higher rates of absenteeism, repetition of a grade and an inability to focus. Adults who eat an adequate, nutritious diet are generally healthier, more productive and better able to focus while at work. While much of the emphasis on employee health is related to what you eat, you cannot maintain a proper diet if you simply don’t have enough to eat. A peer reviewed study conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University found absenteeism is reduced by 27 percent in healthy employees. Another recent national study suggested that food insecurity among working-age Americans is actually worse than previously thought, which aligns with Census Data showing that middle-age Ohioans were more likely to be food insecure last month than younger or older adults. During the height of the pandemic, 37 percent of survey respondents said that they skipped meals so their children could eat. The bottom line is: children who are hungry cannot learn and adults who are hungry cannot earn.
Ensuring that people have enough to eat is good for individual Ohioans and for our economy. As Ohio’s economy recovers from the COVID crisis, SNAP emergency allotments are helping families make ends meet and boosting local economic activity. While emergency allotments have been extended through the end of the year, other pandemic hunger assistance will begin to expire this summer. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Ohioans remain food insecure. They need a permanent solution to reduce hunger. Our economy cannot be healthy if our workers aren’t healthy.
County SNAP EA Estimate Methodology
Our estimates of the number of households receiving SNAP EA and benefits issued by county are based on the total SNAP EA issuance provided to USDA by ODJFS as part of the extension of the SNAP COVID-19 waivers and flexibilities and the actual number of SNAP households listed in the Public Assistance Monthly Statistics (PAMS) Report. These documents are available online at https://www.fns.usda.gov/disaster/pandemic/covid-19/ohio and https://jfs.ohio.gov/pams/ Because of reporting delays, as of this writing, the latest available PAMS report was for April, 2021.
Total estimated EA issuance for the state was allocated to each county based on the share of SNAP households in that county. For example, Butler County’s 19,284 SNAP households represented 2.5 percent of Ohio’s total caseload of 775,182 households in April, so Butler was allocated 2.5 percent of SNAP EA allotments. The number of households for each county was then multiplied by the average EA amount per household of $189.68 for April 2021.
Differences between counties should be interpreted with caution. During the month examined, recipients who were already receiving the maximum SNAP benefit for their household size were not eligible for EA. Therefore, it is likely that our estimates overcount EA households and benefits coming to higher-poverty counties where more people received the maximum benefit pre-pandemic, and undercount EA households and benefits in other counties.