February 11, 2007 - Usage has increased substantially over the past six years. The increase is attributed to poor economy but also larger population and better program promotion.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The number of Ohioans receiving food stamps increased by 71 percent over six years, a sure indicator of a poor economy but also a measure of decreased stigma over the help, the Department of Job and Family Services reported.
"Food stamps" has become a misnomer, now that the aid comes in the form of a debit card that's not easily recognizable at a checkout line. The use of food stamps increased from 614,000 people in 2000 to about 1.1 million in 2006, a jump state officials also attribute to a larger population and better promotion of the program.
"But far and away, the biggest factor is the economy," agency spokesman Jon Allen said. "Historically, you've always been able to trace the economy by food-stamp participation." The number of residents - many of them children - receiving aid increased by at least half over the six years in seven urban counties, and more than doubled in Franklin County, home to Columbus, and the six suburban counties surrounding it. Food stamp use has more than tripled in Union County and is close to tripled in Fairfield County.
"A majority of these families are working families, and I think the public really needs to hear that," said Laura Holton, community services director of the Fairfield County JFS. "Our unemployment rate might not be that bad, but the wages just aren't enough."
Another 500,000 Ohioans could be eligible but haven't applied, said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Food Banks. The association teamed up with the state's egg producers to promote the program on egg cartons.
The aid averages about $98 monthly. It's based on income levels and doesn't' exclude people with jobs. In fact, people without children can have their benefits cut off after a certain time period if they don't get a job, unless they live in a county where the requirement is waived.
Doris McShine, 24, of Delaware, got her first food stamp card last month. The veteran returned from Iraq 14 months ago and is resuming studies at Ohio Wesleyan University. "What I'm trying to do is rebuild," she said.