Not all lunches will be free

LISBON – About 1,300 of the 17,539 Columbiana County residents currently covered by food stamps will be required to resume working or perform some work-related activity in exchange for continuing to receive benefits.

Gov. John Kasich announced the change last week, saying he intends to reinstate the work requirement that was waived in 2008 because of the recession. The waiver will remain in effect for the 16 Ohio counties with the highest unemployment rates, but Columbiana County is not among them.

Federal law requires food-stamp recipients age 18 to 50 who are physically and mentally able and without dependents to work or attend job training 20 hours per week. Otherwise, those recipients are limited to receiving food stamps for three months in any 36-month period.

The 20-hour requirement was waived in 2008 when the recession took hold, but the administration said the economy has improved enough for the waiver to be rescinded.

“It is important that we do more than just provide a monetary food assistance benefit. As the economy improves, we owe it to adult Ohioans to provide job training and work experience that will lead to a career and pathway out of poverty,” said Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Michael Colbert in a news release.

The requirement is reinstated beginning in October and those failing to meet the requirement would begin seeing their benefits cut starting Jan. 1.

The county Department of Job and Family Services estimated reinstatement of the requirement will affect 1,300 of the 17,539 people in 8,375 households in the county currently covered by food stamps.

As before, the county JFS will again have the responsibility of finding work for these food-stamp recipients “That’s a lot of people to find an activity for,” said county JFS Director Eileen Dray-Bardon, especially given the state of the local economy. The county’s July unemployment rate of 8.2 percent was the 25th highest out of 88 Ohio counties.

“It’s always been tough to do because it’s an unfunded mandate,” Dray-Bardon said in regard to meeting the work requirement prior to 2008. “We’ll make every good-faith effort, but it’ll be hard to find places for these folks.”

Approximately 1.8 million Ohioans receive food stamps, receiving an average monthly benefit of $132. To qualify, a household of four cannot earn more than $29,976 per year, while the figure for a single person is $14,532. This excludes the cash value of any other government benefits they may be receiving.