Change affects participation in food assistance

LISBON – A reinstatement of federal requirements waived in 2008 for those eligible for food assistance programs is already having an effect on participation, Eileen Dray-Bardon said.

Bardon is director of the Columbiana County Department of Jobs and Family Services (JFS) and said she is already beginning to see a decrease in those willing to show up for required face-to-face interviews.

There are just under 1,200 people in the county who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits as ABAWDs, which means able-bodied adult without dependents, she said.

Someone is declared to be able-bodied if they are physically and mentally able to work, are between the ages of 18 and 49 and have no children in the household.

Bardon said of the 600 assessments already scheduled only 155 people have shown up. Those who do not show up for an assessment are immediately disqualified from the program.

The assessments are for the purpose of verifying the person seeking assistance is attempting to get employment, she explained.

“A good many will lose food assistance due to non-cooperation,” she said.

In addition, federal government food assistance decreased on Nov. 1 from a maximum of $200 a month to $189 for single family households and from $668 to $632 for a four-person household.

The decrease is the result of the end of the 2009 federal stimulus funding.

As of September there were 17,539 people in 8,375 households in the county covered by food stamps, according to a previous report.

Bardon believes food pantries will begin to see an influx of people as a result of the reinstatement of the work requirement and decrease in monthly benefits.

However, one or a few local pantries will likely be getting a boost in funding thanks to a carryover in the Columbiana County Community Action Agency’s (CAA) Community Services Block Grant Funding (CSBG).

The funding is administered through the Ohio Development Services Agency and Celeste Krolak, community development analyst with the agency’s office of community assistance, recently told the CAA’s Board of Directors they need to spend the grant money soon.

The CAA currently has a grant fund balance of $437,932, and that includes carryover from a previous grant. The most recent grant ends on Dec. 31 and the agency cannot have a carryover of 15 to 20 percent, she said.

The surplus carryover is a “red flag,” she explained, because the ODSA views it as the receiving agency does not have a plan to spend the grant funding each quarter.

“We need to come up with … a plan to spend the rest of this money very quickly,” she said, and encouraged the board to spend the money through giving it to local food banks.

Ohio ranks second among most populated states with highest food insecurity rate, with one in six Ohioans food insecure, she added.

“We need clarification that nutritional needs in this community are sufficiently handled by other agencies in this territory, otherwise this agency needs to address those,” she said.

Bardon said funding will likely be given to Second Harvest Food Bank in Mahoning County. The Youngstown-based 501c(3) organization serves residents in Columbiana County.