Dropping Natural Gas Prices Mean Tougher Times for Food-Stamp Recipients

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When natural gas prices dropped to Marc’s closeout-aisle levels earlier this month, the news worked Wall Street traders and energy-company bosses into a lather. But the drop may do even more damage to an unsuspecting group on the other end of the social ladder: Ohio’s food-stamp recipients.

In April, the state will readjust a factor that determines how much food assistance low-income residents get from the state — and the factor is hooked directly to natural gas prices. Assistance is calculated primarily based on the income of the applicant. But the state allows for a handful of deductions based on monthly expenses, including a “standard utility allowance” — money spent on heating and cooling.

“The fact that the state allowance exists is a good thing for food-assistance recipients, because it means the system is taking into account that they have to pay utilities,” says Benjamin Johnson, a spokesman with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. “Unfortunately, this year the allowance is smaller.”

Given that this is Ohio, where state government runs with the precision of an Arkansas possum hunt, officials still don’t have a grasp of how many food-stamp recipients will get screwed by the change.

Johnson says each county is altering its rates manually. Cuyahoga County officials didn’t return Scene’s calls seeking insight on their plans.

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