Winter utility bills, ongoing inflation and easing pandemic-related supports are putting pressure on Ohioans' household budgets. Food banks report struggling to meet demand. State lawmakers recently provided $25-million in the year-end spending bill to help address ongoing food hardship.
Joree Novotny, director of external affairs for the Ohio Association of Foodbanks said her staff saw a significant decline in the number of families with children needing help during the last half of 2021, when households were receiving expanded monthly child tax credit payments. When those payments stopped, demand jumped.
She said amid inflation and high gas prices, more families have spent down emergency savings and are swiping cards more frequently to meet basic needs.
"Over the course of 2022, we have seen the need continue to rise month over month, as people spend down their savings, they start to max out credit cards. You can see lots of reports on some of the credit card debt that Americans had accumulated," she said.
According to the latest data
from the Center for Microeconomic data at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, nationwide, household debt rose by more than 2% to more than $16-trillion in the third quarter of 2022. Credit card balances saw a $38-billion increase, the largest jump in more than twenty years.
Novotny said communities continue to be generous donating food, but many pantries are not able to bring in enough cash to keep operations running at the pace needed to match demand for the families across all 88 Ohio counties who rely on them.
"It does cost us more not only to buy the food, but also to you know, put the really costly diesel in our semis, day in and day out to drive the food into the warehouse," Novotny said.
Novotny said cash donations are the best way to help your regional food bank, if that is something you want to do.
"We can stretch the dollars that you donate much further than you can at your grocery store. And what's also important is that we really want to lean into the fact that we're providing take home groceries to about a million Ohioans every month," she said.
According to the USDA, nearly 7% of all U.S. households reported using a food pantry, an increase from around 4% pre-pandemic.