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$15 million from COVID-19 stimulus funds awarded to Ohio food banks

The money comes from the Ohio American Rescue Plan Act.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — EDITOR'S NOTE: The story was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal

Faced with the prospect of a punishing winter, the Ohio Association of Foodbanks is lauding Gov. Mike DeWine’s decision to award them $15 million in unspent federal coronavirus funds to buy protein-rich food for their clients.

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Supply bottlenecks, increased fuel costs, commodity inflation and a lack of farm labor have strained the foodbanks’ ability to meet growing demand. Those factors and sharp reductions in food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in August prompted Ohio Association of Foodbanks Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt to say that food was “going out a hell of a lot faster than it’s coming in.”

And because of the bottlenecks, Hamler-Fugitt said the agencies needed money quickly because months-long lead times meant that orders needed to be placed right away to ensure delivery by winter. On Monday, she issued a statement praising the decision to contribute some of the state’s unexpended coronavirus-relief funds.

“Today, Gov. Mike DeWine renewed his commitment to supporting Ohio agriculture and keeping Ohio families nourished by advancing $15 million of Ohio’s American Rescue Plan Act dollars to support the Ohio Agricultural Clearance Program,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “These funds will be used by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks to purchase and distribute much-needed and highly sought-after Ohio protein products to households struggling to meet their basic needs during these times of historic inflation and rising food prices.”

In an email, she said that her organization will use the funds to purchase “protein foods directly from farmers, livestock producers and co-op operations and processors as we already do through the Ohio Agriculture Clearance program.”

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he added that the purchases will fill an acute need because they’re “desperately needed high-cost, in-demand meats and protein foods that are not available through donation channels and USDA programs. Foodbanks and food pantries have little to no protein available to distribute to hungry Ohioans.”

The news comes after the foodbanks last month got some good news from the USDA. It announced that Ohio’s foodbanks would get $50 million in emergency assistance starting next year as part of a nearly $1 billion relief package nationwide. But it seems unlikely that the measures will meet the foodbanks’ need — especially if, as some economists predict, we’re headed into a recession.

Even without a recession and accompanying unemployment, the most recent U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey estimated that as of Aug. 8, nearly 762,000 — or 6.5% — of Ohioans sometimes or often couldn’t get enough to eat during the previous seven days. That was a 20% increase over August 2021.

And the strain on the foodbanks comes as the state as of earlier this year sat on  unprecedented fund balances of $7.4 billion and another $1.3 billion in unexpended American Rescue Plan Act funds. In June, DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said that as for rescue plan funds, the governor’s “strong and prudent preference (is) that one time federal funds be used on one-time expenditures as opposed to ongoing expenses.”

Such ongoing expenses could include supplies for foodbanks.

RELATED: Food banks in Northeast Ohio react to President Biden's goal of ending hunger in America by 2030

Hamler-Fugitt in March said that the foodbanks need more than $180 million for supplies, equipment and to upgrade their infrastructure. But on Monday, she praised DeWine and state lawmakers for the $15 million for protein.

“We thank Gov. DeWine for being at the table with us to hear from Ohio foodbanks about the tremendous need and why we need bold action like today’s announcement to make sure hungry Ohioans have the healthy wholesome foods, like Ohio-produced beef, pork, cheese, milk, eggs, chicken, turkey, lamb and more, on their plates each day,” she said.

Read more: Ohio Capital Journal


3News received the following statements from local food banks. 

Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank:

“We are deeply grateful to Governor DeWine for helping Ohio’s food banks with this funding from the American Rescue Plan Act,” said Dan Flowers, Foodbank president and CEO. “It will help a lot of families. But I want to be clear about the significant food donation crisis Ohio’s food banks are in. This funding, as grateful as we are, will not come close to filling the gap in food donations resulting from the supply chain crisis and 40-year high inflation. We’re getting ready to go into the holiday season with the lowest inventory in years. We’ve had less food to distribute this year than last year, and at the same time, we’re seeing a 14% increase in people served by our pantry network. We hope the community will continue to stick with us.”

Cleveland Food Bank: 

Along with the other 11 Feeding America food banks across Ohio, we are grateful to Gov. DeWine, House and Senate leadership, and the Controlling Board for advancing $15 million in ARPA dollars to help us provide Ohio-sourced protein items to families in need. With the increased cost of groceries, housing, and utilities, many Ohioans have stretched their budgets to the breaking point. This funding will help keep center-of-the-plate protein items on the table for low-income families.

In order to keep up with the increased demand at our network of emergency feeding partners, we hope that our public and private partners will continue to step up however they are able. An additional long standing ARPA request remains with the State to help us build capacity for the future and help us reduce hunger in our community.

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