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To Fight Hunger, Let’s Boost the Economic Security of Residents

No child should ever have to go to bed hungry. But in Franklin County, nearly 178,000 people experienced food insecurity in 2022, according to Feeding America. These residents, including children, didn’t consistently have enough food for an active, healthy life.  


One reason so many parents and caregivers struggle to put food on the table is because too many jobs in Central Ohio pay poverty-level wages. Today, 4 of the 10 most common jobs in the Columbus metro area – employing nearly 92,000 residents – don’t pay enough to feed a family of three without food assistance


Residents who are paid low wages continue to feel the stress of higher prices for groceries, gas, rent, and utilities as well as higher borrowing costs due to higher interest rates for credit cards, auto loans, and mortgages. According to the NYTimes, more Americans are struggling to keep up with their credit card and auto loan payments, even as they continue to take on more debt.  


Kids who go to school hungry struggle to learn and focus and have more behavioral issues. Research shows that hungry children are more likely to face toxic stress and have worse educational, health and employment outcomes compared to their peers from more economically secure families. On the other hand, when children have economic stability and enough food to eat, they are healthier, do better at school, and are better positioned to take advantage of future economic opportunities.  


Together, we can boost the stability and security of children, adults, and families. 

Federal lawmakers acted during the pandemic to provide more economic stability, free school lunch, and more food assistance for families. They provided more money to working families through the expanded Child Tax Credit and the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit. They also provided households involved in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) with the maximum food assistance benefit. All these programs – free school lunch, the expanded tax credits, and SNAP emergency allotments – were temporary and have since expired. When these programs were operating in 2021, child poverty fell to a record low of 5.2%. A year later, after the expanded child tax credit and the free school lunch program ended, the child poverty rate doubled to 12.4%.  


Federal lawmakers made policy choices in a moment of crisis, and they had a real impact in the day-to-day lives of children and families. However, lawmakers didn’t sustain these programs. 


This is why we must continue to advocate for policy solutions at the local, state and federal level that improve the health and well-being of residents, boost the economic security of families, and end child hunger, so kids and families can thrive. Lawmakers can enact policies to help families keep food on the table and ensures no child goes to bed hungry. 


SNAP is an effective tool for reducing food insecurity and financial instability. In December 2023, SNAP helped 65,197 Franklin County households put food on the table, supporting 142,238 residents (including nearly 73,081 adults and 69,157 children), according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The average SNAP issuance per person in December was $199. At $199 / month, an individual gets about $2,400 annually, on average, to help pay for groceries. 


Economic security programs, such as refundable tax credits, also help families afford basic necessities, like food. In 2023, an estimated 89,500 households in Franklin County received the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and got an average refund of $2,560. This one-time tax refund provides financial relief, takes some stress off workers and parents, and makes it a little easier to pay for groceries or other expenses. 


Today, there are thousands of residents who are eligible for federal food and economic security programs who aren’t getting the resources and support they need.  


Based on an 81% SNAP participation rate in 2020 for the state of Ohio, we estimate that 33,000 Franklin County residents were eligible for SNAP in December 2023 but did not participate. If all of those residents were enrolled in SNAP, an additional $6.6 million – or an estimated $79.7 million over the course of a year – would flow to adults and families to spend on groceries at local supermarkets and grocery stores. 


RISE Together estimates that over 24,000 households did not claim the EITC in tax year 2022. That’s roughly $62 million being left on the table that could help workers and parents in Franklin County keep food on the table and pay for other necessities. 


Right now, tens of millions of dollars are being left on the table that could be supporting kids, adults, and families. We must make sure all residents in Franklin County who are eligible for federal food and economic security programs get connected to them. 


We can also make it easier for residents to get the services they need to regain a foundation of security. That’s why RISE Together, Smart Columbus, Franklin County, and the City of Columbus is working on the Community Innovation Exchange (CIE) initiative. The CIE will do just that, and save residents and caseworkers time, help them see what resources and services are available, and make it easier to get connected to critical resources and services. Ultimately, it will enable organizations to focus more time and capacity on their core mission and services.  


The data is clear: when children and families have stable access to nutritious food and financial stability, they have more opportunities to thrive. Federal programs such as SNAP and the EITC have proven effective in reducing hunger and instability, yet many residents are not benefiting from these resources. It's going to take all of us working together to make sure that families in Franklin County get connected to these resources.  


By working together, advocating for effective policies, and leveraging innovative solutions, we can make sure every family has the resources they need to live with stability and peace of mind.  


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