August 10, 2005
FOODBANKS ASKING ODJFS TO HONOR AGREEMENT AS PASSED BY OHIO LEGISLATURE
State-funded emergency food delayed; Ohio farmers, food pantries suffering
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, Executive Director, OASHF, and Dan Flowers, Executive Director, Akron Canton Regional Foodbank
COLUMBUS – Last-minute changes to a grant agreement and unprecedented restrictions on state funding of emergency food have led to major delays in hunger relief in Ohio, putting hunger providers at risk and forcing Ohio farmers to plow under much-needed fresh produce.
The Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks (OASHF) reports that the state funding the association has relied on to provide a portion of the state’s emergency food supply has been unavailable for nearly six weeks due to proposed changes in the long-time partnership between OASHF and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS). The funds support two state programs – the Ohio Food Program and the Ohio Agriculture Surplus Production Alliance – that feed hundreds of thousands of low-income and unemployed Ohioans each year.
The proposed changes, which were not communicated to OASHF until the prior grant agreement had expired, unilaterally change the funding source which, in turn, will limit the types of people who can receive food purchased by OASHF. This was not part of the language in the final budget as approved by the legislature and signed by Governor Bob Taft.
The changes could have a number of negative implications for OASHF. Most notably, the change would prevent those funds from being used to provide emergency food to seniors, disabled adults and other low-income Ohioans who do not have children in the home.
“We clearly are very concerned about the fundamental changes to our grant agreement being proposed by ODJFS,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of OASHF. “ODJFS is disregarding the success of this partnership and the high accountability our association has maintained, and they are ignoring the specific funding language as set forth by Governor Taft and passed by the General Assembly.” She said testimony from ODJFS Director Barbara Riley, Governor Taft’s executive budget and the budget as passed by the legislature all clearly identify the funding source that is to be used for the grant.
Grant agreement does not correspond to budget language in statute
Hamler-Fugitt said foodbank funding is supposed to come from Title XX funds, which are not restricted to certain populations, and that the state budget specifies that those funds should be used in FY06-07. It also specifies that OASHF’s programs are the first to be funded under Title XX before any other distribution of funds. She said the grant proposal from ODJFS does not follow the statute, and combines the funds so that a portion comes from more restricted Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant funds. Use of TANF funds would prevent Second Harvest from providing food to seniors, disabled adults and other low-income Ohioans without children.
“Our mission is clear: our network of foodbanks and member charities must feed any hungry Ohioan who walks through our doors,” said Dan Flowers, OASHF Board Chairman and executive director of the Akron/Canton Regional Foodbank. “The association simply cannot be put in the position of denying food to seniors or other low-income Ohioans because the funds are unreasonably restricted.” Flowers said that the foodbank network currently provides emergency food to any Ohioan earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
About the state-funded programs
OASHF, a statewide non-profit organization representing twelve member foodbanks serving nearly 3,000 member charities, received in the recently-passed state budget a legislative appropriation of $5.5 million in annual funding. The two state programs funded with these monies have been strongly supported by members of the Ohio General Assembly and by Ohio Governor Bob Taft.
State funding for these programs has been in place for eight years. The partnership between the state and OASHF previously has been described by ODJFS as “one of the most successful and cost-effective public-private partnerships currently operating in the state of Ohio.” The program cannot be replicated through any other existing state or county-based system, and it delivers food in all 88 Ohio counties.
By centralizing the funding, it allows OASHF maximum purchasing power to fully leverage the state dollars to purchase food at the lowest possible cost. Other changes proposed by ODJFS would put that leverage at risk by changing the way in which farmers are reimbursed for their production costs.
Hamler-Fugitt said that when the state funding partnership first began in 1997, OASHF specifically asked that accountability language be included in the legislation. The association has provided detailed spending documentation, as well as a comprehensive annual report, to the Ohio General Assembly and to ODJFS each year.
Ohio farmers negatively impacted
Because this is the summer harvest season, Ohio farmers who have been part of the agriculture surplus program have been among the hardest hit. Hamler-Fugitt estimates that during the past six weeks since the state grant expired, OASHF has lost 1.5 million pounds of fresh Ohio agriculture products that will never be recovered. She says that number is increasing at the rate of 200,000 to 500,000 pounds per week.
Hunger relief providers already struggling
Across the state, hunger relief providers are suffering. State-funded food provides between one-fourth and one-third of the state’s emergency food supply. Faced with increasing demand for emergency food, reduced donations from food manufacturers and a slow economic recovery, combined with the loss of state-funded food, several Ohio food pantries have been forced to close their doors.
“We want a grant agreement that is consistent with Ohio law, and we want it before our supply of fresh Ohio agriculture products is gone,” said Hamler-Fugitt. “We must end these unnecessary delays that are preventing hungry Ohioans from putting food on their tables.”
Contacts: Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, 614/221-4336 or 614/271-4803
Dan Flowers, 330/535-6900 Ext. 135
Farmers’ Perspective: The following farmers have worked with the Ohio Agriculture Surplus Production Alliance.
Bruce and Loreen Buurma, 419/935-6411
Gary Vogley, 330/484-4387
John Brown, 513/738-0404
*Tours of local foodbanks and member charities available on request.*