As Farm Bill Stalls, Ohio Food Banks Struggle to Meet Demand

By Nadia Ramlagan
Ohio News Connection

The still-looming threat of a federal government shutdown and chaos in Congress have pushed Farm Bill negotiations to the side.

The uncertainty around federal funding for food banks and nutrition programs is compounding the struggles to meet demand, Ohio food bank officials said. The deadline to reauthorize the nation’s largest food and agriculture legislative package was last month.

Jessica Semachko, director of advocacy and public education for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, said in the past year her organization served nearly 350,000 northeastern Ohioans across six counties, a significant increase from 2021. She said to operate at high volume, food banks need reliable funding.

“We can’t afford to let the cost of uncertainty of the threat of another shutdown, and the lack of a bipartisan agreement to fund critical programs and services of the federal government, to be borne by vulnerable Americans,” Semachko said.

Rising fuel costs and higher food prices are further straining food banks’ ability to meet demand. According to the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, over a three-month period in 2022, the state’s pantries served more than 2 million people.

The Farm Bill also covers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other critical nutrition programs. While food banks were asked to fill in the gap when emergency SNAP allotments ended earlier this year, Semachko said pantries are not designed to replace a strong nutrition safety net, adding food banks provide just one meal for every nine meals SNAP provides.

“Our concern is really about food accessibility,” Semachko said. “And it’s really a partnership between food banks and other federal food programs to be able to stand in when families, seniors, those with disabilities are facing hunger.”

According to the nonprofit Feeding America, the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program, funded through the Farm Bill, provided 1 billion meals to low-income households across the nation in 2022.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.