Fighting the war on poverty at home

By Wayne Allen

November 3, 2013

Wayne Allen

PDT Staff Writer

Recent data released from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that one in six Ohioans were living in poverty in 2012.

Local officials working with those in need do not dispute those numbers and are working to improve them through their everyday work.

Page Robbins, Director of the Scioto County Department of Job and Family Services, has a unique perspective on the needs of the community through the services they provide.

“In 2011 the census population for Scioto County showed 79,277 people. Of that population about 22.2 percent live in poverty,” Robbins said. “In the month of September (2013) there were 1,585 people receiving a cash benefit from our office on a monthly basis. That benefit can be as low as $115 for one person awaiting disability approval.”

She said when you look at cash for families, one person starts at $253 per month.

“That is very revealing as to how low these dollar amounts are. It really gives a good perspective about just how low the income is for families on cash assistance,” Robbins said.

Robbins said there are 26,672 people in Scioto County receiving some type of medicaid program or premium assistance. Which represents nearly 34 percent of the of the county population.

She said the number of people receiving food assistance in Scioto County stands at 20,027.

“That’s 25 percent of our population on food assistance,” Robbins said.

According to CBS, as of Friday, Nov. 1 the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits are set to fall for more than 47 million lower-income people — one in seven Americans — most of whom live in households with children, seniors or people with disabilities. The maximum payment for a family of four will shrink from $668 a month to $632, or $432 over the course of a year.

That amounts to 21 meals per month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The cuts will leave participants in the program, better known as food stamps, with an average of $1.40 to spend on each meal. The amount people get could sink even more if Congress makes deeper cuts later this year when House and Senate lawmakers try to hammer out a farm bill.”

The Nov. 1 benefit cuts “will be close to catastrophic for many people,” said Ross Fraser, a spokesman for Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity, which estimates that this week’s SNAP reduction will result in a loss of nearly 2 billion meals for poor families next year.”

Robbins said it would be safe to assume the number of people on the programs provided by the Scioto County Department of Job and Family Services has increased over the years.

She said with the increase in numbers comes more strain on the Scioto County Department of Job and Family Services budget.

“Our agency operates off one half of the funding we used to have and our roles have increased. That’s a result of decreases in our state and federal funding. We are also operating at about half the staff we used to have,” Robbins said. “As a result, we’ve had to utilize technology and find efficiency’s to manage. I feel we’re going a good job at offering and providing services for our community.”

Robbins said these number show poverty in Scioto County has been around for a while.

“It seems to me like our area, and many other areas throughout the United States, are still digging out of the recession. We had a high unemployment rate before the recession so then we were getting information from ODJFS (Ohio Department of Job and Family Services) that the roles were increasing in other counties who had not been as poverty stricken. We did not see changes as quickly as they did, because we had a large population receiving assistance from our agency,” Robbins said.

When asked if there was an light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to poverty locally, Robbins said, “There is no way for me to be sure what the future holds, however our funding has been stabilized so that for the next couple of years our budgets have been better than they have been. We feel confident that we can continue to provide services to our community.”

As a part of the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund, a Steven’s Power Pack Club was started. One of the goals of the program is to provide weekend meals to students in area schools that may not otherwise have meals.

According to, www.stevenshopefund.org, the Power Pack program, “now serves almost 500 hungry children every weekend in nine different school districts including Portsmouth Elementary, East Portsmouth Elementary, New Boston Oak Intermediate, New Boston Stanton Primary, Northwest Elementary, West Elementary, Valley Elementary, Green Elementary, Clay Elementary, Bloom-Vernon Elementary, & Minford Elementary.”

“The number used nationally is one in six children are food insecure. It may be more like one in five for children,” said Mark Hunter, Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund Administrator. “In Ohio I think that number has fallen to one in four children. In Scioto County it’s almost one in three children who are food insecure.”

According to, www.stevenshopefund.org to be, food insecure, “is when one does not know where their next meal is coming from. This means that the children in our local schools are among the most vulnerable to suffer from the problems associated with hunger in the home. The sad reality is that many of these children are going without proper nutrition or, in some cases, with no food at all over the weekend, their only meals being provided at breakfast or lunch through the school system.”

Hunter said the number of children who are food insecure has held for a while.

“I do not think they are getting better (number of children who are food insecure) and I don’t think they are getting any worse,” Hunter said. “When I talk to the schools, it’s like they need more and of course we have budget constraints like everyone else. It always makes me feel inadequate.”

Hunter said he and others are working on plans to further the reach of the Power Pack program in the future.

A report released by the United States Department of Agriculture on household food security in 2012 reads, “an estimated 14.5 percent of American Households were food insecure at least some time during the year in 2012, meaning they lacked access to the enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.”

Robbins said there is a war on poverty going on in our community and not in the famished countries we see on television asking for assistance.

“We have a war on poverty going on in our own back yard. The good news is that we do have services that can help the needy of our community. The services can often fall short, to provide some of the essential needs that people have,” Robbins said. “It (poverty) definitely exists in Scioto County.”

For more information about the work of the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund and ways to donate, visit www.stevenshopefund.org.

Wayne Allen may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 228, or tallen@civitasmedia.com. For breaking news, follow Wayne on Twitter @WayneallenPDT.