Changes to regulations of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will soon take away benefits for thousands of Ohioans.
At least 29 counties are losing access to a waiver that makes the benefits more accessible. In those counties alone, about 20,000 people will lose food assistance benefits completely, said Loren Anthes, public policy fellow for the Center for Community Solutions.
“Families who rely on this assistance are going to have to comply with this paperwork,” Anthes said. “It means that county departments are going to have to work with individuals to help them meet that compliance.”
Federal regulations limit able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) to just three months of SNAP benefits out of every three years. To continue receiving benefits after that, individuals must spend at least 20 hours a week at work, school, or volunteering to qualify.
The waiver allows counties to lift that three-month limit.
But under the new regulations, which go into effect in April, counties must have an unemployment rate of at least 6 percent – more than double the previous requirement – to have the option of a waiver, leaving just 13 Ohio counties eligible for it.
The change will deepen food insecurity, lower revenue for local businesses and harm local economies, Anthes said. And the new regulations disproportionately impact urban communities of color, he said.
“The way that these exemptions typically play out, there’s a disparity between who is and who is not impacted by the exemptions,” Anthes said.
Counties with urban centers tend to have a lower unemployment rate due to the more diverse economy, Anthes said, but people living in poverty there still rely on benefits like the SNAP program.
A majority of the counties still eligible for the waiver are rural and have primarily white populations, Anthes said.
“While there’s a lot of differences between those types of counties, whether we’re talking about rural Ohio or a county like Cuyahoga, poverty is poverty,” he said.
The 13 counties eligible to apply for the waiver as of April are Adams, Coshocton, Gallia, Jackson, Jefferson, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Noble, Ottawa, Pike, Scioto and Vinton.
Counties losing the waiver – including Cuyahoga County – could have to divert more staff to assist SNAP recipients in meeting those workplace requirements, said Joel Potts, the executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors’ Association.
“We’re still waiting for a little more direction for the state, but the clock is ticking and April will be here before we know it,” Potts said.
The counties losing the waiver can evaluate the individuals losing benefits to determine if another factor means they qualify for assistance, Potts said, such as mental illness or transportation issues that prevent them from finding employment.
After an assessment, Potts said, those who meet other criteria will continue to receive food assistance uninterrupted. Otherwise, they’ll be offered the ability to participate in a work training program, either through the county or on their own. Each county will see a different level of impact, Potts said.
“Five of our 10 largest counties were considered waiver counties,” Potts said, though it will put a strain on county employees who are already stretched thin. “It will have a much bigger impact in our larger metropolitan areas that were waiver counties.”
Individuals who lose SNAP benefits will have to rearrange tight budgets and under the new rule change could face difficulties paying for housing, Potts said. And food banks will likely see higher traffic in affected areas, he said, resulting in a shortage of supplies.
The Trump Administration announced the changes in December.