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New Census Stats: More Stomachs Rumble in Ohio

September 29, 2010

CINCINNATI - The U.S. Census Bureau's new snapshot of income and lifestyle trends released on Tuesday shows more Ohioans are struggling and seems to contradict some economists' opinions that the recession has technically ended. The American Communities Survey says the number of Ohio residents living in poverty is 1.7 million, up by 217,000 since 2008.

Heading into winter, that concerns the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks. Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt says donors are generous, but the needs are great, and emergency funding for some federal assistance programs ends this week if Congress doesn't act.

"We're also seeing more attempts to take funding from the food stamp or the SNAP program to fund other priorities -- just unconscionable, to play shell games by taking food off the plates of our most vulnerable citizens, especially our children."

The new figures indicate more than one in five Ohio children lives in poverty. The highest rates are in Allen, Jefferson and Scioto counties, all in the 30 percent range.

Cincinnati Children's Hospital has conducted its own survey, of families in the waiting room of its pediatric clinic, most of whom are lower-income. More than one-third said they'd eaten less in the past year due to financial hardship, and 15 percent of mothers with babies said they fed them less, or watered down their formula. Dr. Mary Carol Burkhardt calls the findings surprising.

"We obviously knew it was a problem, but I think when you spend the time and energy to get actual data, it was certainly eye-opening for me to see firsthand, you know, how many of our families really are just starting in a precarious situation. It's more the rule, rather than the exception."

Dr. Robert Kahn explains the clinic staff asks about diet, living conditions and stress levels to help get at underlying causes of medical problems. And lately, he says, they're getting an earful.

"I think it is incredibly scary. I think we barely scratch the surface, even though they're willing to open up to us. People who have their basic needs met sometimes just don't even realize that families are trying to choose between which of the basic needs are going to get met, in a given week."

The hospital routinely refers patients to social or legal aid workers. The Census Bureau's figures also show one in 10 U.S. households now receives food stamps.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OH