CLEVELAND — A late addition to the Ohio Senate's budget proposal would place greater restrictions on the eligibility of SNAP benefits -- also known as food stamps -- for tens of thousands of Ohioans. The proposed provisions, which are similar to those included in a standalone Senate bill that died in committee earlier this year, have been met with fierce opposition from food banks, community advocacy organizations and churches.
The proposed changes to SNAP benefit eligibility would require the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to examine the bank accounts of every SNAP recipient in order to conduct an 'asset test' to determine if an applicant or beneficiary doesn't have greater than $2,250 in savings. The changes, if approved, would also require food stamp clients to report changes in income exceeding $500 every 30 days. Opponents of the changes, including the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, have chided the proposals as bad policy coming at an even worse time.
"This is the worst possible time that this could happen. We're still dealing with the effects of the pandemic and the economic aftermath of the pandemic. Just from last March to March 2021, we have served 62,000 new households," said Kimberly Lovano, the director of advocacy and policy education at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. "Essentially what it does is it makes it harder to apply for SNAP benefits and maintain their SNAP benefits."
If the provisions were to be passed as part of the Senate's proposed budget, as many as 100,000 Ohioans would be kicked off of SNAP, potentially creating an even greater demand for the food bank's assistance. The GCFB set a new record in 2020 by assisting more than 400,000 families, which is 100,000 more families compared to 2019.
"If you have more than $2,250 saved in your bank account, you will no longer be eligible for SNAP. You will not qualify if you applied and if someone has $2,251 in their bank account -- they save the extra dollar -- they will lose their benefits pretty much immediately," Lovano said. "These provisions will essentially punish people who are working, trying to save a dollar or two. It will disincentivize someone from taking a raise because if they save over $2,250, they will lose their benefits."
The provisions were initially included in SB-17, which was introduced in January but died in committee. As many as 60 organizations testified against the proposal, compared to just three that testified in favor of it. Proponents have said the changes are needed to clamp down on fraud and abuse within the SNAP benefits system. However, according to the Congressional Research Service, food stamp fraud accounts for an estimated 1.5% of all disbursements, although there is no standard "fraud rate."
An additional provision that was proposed as part of the Senate's budget proposal, which exceeds 3,000 pages, relates to the value of a SNAP recipient's car. If a recipient's car exceeds $4,650 in value, the amount over that threshold would be applied to the asset limit. For example, if a SNAP recipient has $1,500 in a savings account but they have a vehicle worth more than $5,400, the SNAP recipient would be ineligible for the program.
The eligibility changes could prove disastrous for rural Ohioans who may not have access to public transportation.
"You're forcing parents to make an impossible decision. You're deciding whether or not to keep the car that you use to drive to work or you have to decide whether to keep food on the table for your kids," Lovano said. "It's not a decision that any parent wants to make and really it's an impossible decision. It would take food away from kids."