The Columbus Dispatch

 

When is the last time you got a meal for $1.37?

But $1.37 a meal is what Ohio food stamp recipients have been able to count on, and now even that paltry amount is in jeopardy due to senseless legislation under consideration in the Ohio House of Representatives.

House Bill 200, a proposal pushed by Rep. Scott Wiggam, would work to reduce the assistance available to low-income Ohioans under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.

SNAP helps to feed 1.3 million Ohioans, or about 1 in 9, and more than 40 percent of the beneficiaries are children.

On its face, HB 200 purports to expand work requirements linked to food assistance by raising the age for work requirements from 49 to 60 and excusing only those able-bodied adults with children younger than 6. Current work requirements for food stamps apply to those physically able to work and without dependent children younger than 18.

One of the few backers of the proposal is a conservative Florida-based think tank that has pushed similar tightening of food stamp eligibility in other states. The Opportunity Solutions Project seems to think that Ohio’s food stamp rolls are fattened by greedy ineligible recipients who are willing to commit fraud for the $1.37 per meal that SNAP provides.

OSP Policy Director Sam Adolphsen offered testimony that HB 200 “will make sure millionaires and other people with significant resources won’t take advantage of the program and ensure adults on food stamps who owe child support are trying to pay that support.”

It’s laughable that anyone with seven-figure assets would endure the humiliating hassle of applying for food assistance, let alone maintain eligibility by meeting existing program requirements.

Members of the General Assembly need look no further than an analysis by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission to judge whether the questionable benefits of HB 200 — if there are any — are greater than the costs.

The LSC fiscal note on the bill predicts additional costs to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, as well as to county departments of job and family services, to add workforce training slots, upgrade computer systems and implement extra eligibility determinations.

Current eligibility is limited to those with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level, or $27,024 for a family of three. HB 200 would add new requirements to prohibit food assistance for households with assets above $2,250, or $3,500 if the household includes a disabled or elderly member.

Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors’ Association, said the asset limits could work against progress Ohio has made in helping families break generational poverty cycles and decrease dependency on government welfare.

He also urged lawmakers to vet costs to implement the bill, such as a provision to tie SNAP eligibility to cooperation with child support enforcement laws. That would cost the state $16 million per year.

And here’s the thing: SNAP benefits are paid by the federal government. Any reduction in SNAP caseloads due to stricter HB 200 requirements would save federal funds but increase state and county costs to administer the program.

It is also questionable whether toughening SNAP requirements is needed.

More SNAP-eligible Ohioans who are able to work are working ... just 1.7 percent of SNAP recipients who are able to work are experiencing long-term unemployment.

Even among those working, many do not make enough money to rise above SNAP-eligible income levels. Policy Matters Ohio notes six of Ohio’s 10 most common jobs pay full-time workers less than $26,000 a year, meaning they still need food stamps to feed a family of three.

Legislators should not make snap judgments to make it harder for struggling Ohio families to work their way out of poverty with a little help from SNAP.