COLUMBUS, Ohio — As state leaders balance complex funding needs in the state's next two-year budget, hunger-fighting groups argued there's nothing more basic than the need for food.
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, said roughly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, hunger is more widespread than it's been in decades.
She explained one in five Ohioans are food insecure, as are one in three households with kids.
"Our families with children have been crippled by not only job losses but lost savings, increased household debt and rapidly rising food costs," Hamler-Fugitt observed. "This is America. We could do better."
Gov. Mike DeWine's $75 billion biennium budget proposal gives food banks $24.5 million per year in fixed funding, along with $7 million the first year in CARES Act funding for food storage, transportation and distribution.
The Ohio Association of Foodbanks is instead calling for $45 million to help respond to the hunger crisis.
Hamler-Fugitt explained the request includes $40 million in direct food purchases, as well as additional purchases of personal care and household cleaning items.
She pointed out many Ohioans turning to the state's emergency food network right now don't qualify for other supports.
"Ohioans are suffering from not only the pandemic but the pandemic-driven recession, at the same time that we're seeing rapidly rising food costs," Hamler-Fugitt emphasized. "So we need more food to feed more people more frequently."
The Governor's Office asserted the state's finances are starting to stabilize, however other research indicates the economic downturn will continue in the coming months.
Hamler-Fugitt understands a lot of priorities must be balanced, and looks forward to working with lawmakers as the budget is crafted.
"We have quite a rainy day fund and in fact, we're not looking at budget deficits," Hamler-Fugitt contended. "And we have additional CARES Act dollars that we're advocating be invested as well. Now is the time to make these strategic investments. Ohioans need to heal."
A final budget for fiscal years 2022 and 2023 must be signed into law by July 1.