YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – A steady flow of food is scanned at the Boardman Sparkle Market on South Avenue, much of which is paid with an Ohio Direction Card — what used to be called food stamps.
“At least half our sales are based on the food assistance program. If it was to shut down, it would be catastrophic, yeah,” said Samantha Nichols, who lives a few blocks away on Youngstown’s south side.
On Tuesday, with looming threats of a government shutdown, the Agriculture Department said it will stop providing benefits at the beginning of October if Congress does not pass legislation to keep government agencies open. A shutdown could immediately suspend or delay food stamp payments to some of the 46 million Americans who receive the food aid.
Nichols is one of the many Americans who may be affected by the government shutdown. She works and makes a salary of about $300 a month. If food assistance is not funded, she said she would struggle to make ends meet for her family.
“That means my three kids don’t get dinner every night, or lunch for school or breakfast,” she said.
As many as 45,650 people are on food assistance in Mahoning County and 20,000 and 17,300 people receive assistance in Trumbull and Columbiana counties, respectively. That is almost 83,000 people — or 15 percent of the state’s total population — that receive food assistance.
Bob Bush, department head of the Mahoning County Department of Job and Family Services, where food assistance is funded through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), said the majority of those on food assistance have a genuine need.
Bush said he understands the need and its effects.
“Five million dollars a month for 12 months, that’s $60 million into the economy” he said. “Most of these dollars for food assistance are spent locally.”
The Department of Agriculture did ask the state to delay until further notice the process of distributing benefits until the first of the month, but Bush said he will likely continue taking applications. He said he does not see that ending.
Should the funding for food assistance be withheld, it would put extra pressure on places like the Second Harvest Food Bank and the Rescue Mission — places that either distribute food or provide meals.
“What would you do if they quit funding the program? Just like I’d do before I couldn’t get on it. I would have to go to charity services and churches, things along those lines, and probably have to get a second job,” Nichols said.