More county citizens seek food assistance

Jeremy Nobile

Percentage grew by double digits every month since 2007

Credit: DKS Editors

The number of Portage County families living at or below the poverty line has grown throughout the last year, and the need for public assistance has spiked along with it.

According to statistics from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, 6,507 families were enrolled in the Portage County Food Assistance program in September, compared to last year’s figure of 4,924 families – a 32.1 percent increase.

“It’s been an enormous increase,” said Anita Herington, director of Portage County Job and Family Services. “We have been in a double-digit (percentage) increase every month since June 2007.”

Eligibility for the Food Assistance program (formerly known as Food Stamps) is often determined on a county-to-county basis, but recent changes to the program have made it easier for citizens, particularly students, to be approved. In fact, Herington said students with low incomes make up a large portion of those enrolled in the program.

Emily McFarland, junior early childhood education major, has considered applying for the program recently to supplement her tight budget.

“I have considered food stamps because I am living on my own and my rent is more expensive,” she said. “If I had food stamps, it would be one less thing to pay for.”

She also doesn’t find it surprising that more and more students are on Food Assistance.

“It’s no wonder students use it more,” McFarland said. “It’s hard to balance work and school, and a lot of students pay for their own tuition.

McFarland’s scenario is that of a typical college student. She works part-time, an average of 20 hours a week, at Macy’s in Stow, attends Kent State full-time and ultimately supports herself. In her attempt to balance work and school, the notion of receiving a little extra help with her necessities has become most appealing.

“It would make living easier, and I think I would be less stressed about money and concentrate on more important things, like school,” she said. “I already work as much as I can.”

McFarland’s reasoning, like her situation, is typical among the rest of the student population and possibly the reason many students are seeking the benefits of Food Assistance.

However, McFarland said she has not applied yet for a couple reasons. Her family is concerned that applying for Food Assistance may somehow affect her eligibility for school loans. She also confesses to not quite understanding how the process works or where to begin applying.

Linda Seeman, manager of direct services for public assistance at the Portage County Department of Job and Family Services, suggested that everyone who has considered applying to apply now. Applications can be acquired in person at the department’s office in Ravenna or obtained online, and can be submitted in numerous formats.

“Anybody can apply,” Seeman said. “I encourage people to apply if they feel they need help. Even if it turns out they’re not eligible, the only thing they lose is their time.”

Seeman added that even if someone is turned down, it is still beneficial to become familiar with the process. Also, an applicant’s information will be in the system should he or she try to apply again.

“There are no disadvantages to it at all,” Seeman said of the program. “I think it’s great.”

All together, the social stigma associated with receiving federal assistance has changed through the years. There’s no shame in applying for Food Assistance during such economic hardships, which may be a concept that could deter some citizens from applying.

The ancient stamp-like currency has been replaced by a form of debit card that is rich with funds during the start of the month. Users can utilize their cards discreetly without concern of being identified as a member of the program, and many stores will accept the card for eligible goods.

Products covered by the program are most untaxed food items. Some goods not covered by the program include: alcohol, tobacco, vitamins and medicines, hot food products prepared to be eaten immediately and non-food items such as pet food, soaps and paper products.

Seeman said although there has been a drastic increase in the need for the program, she thinks some people may not apply because they believe their neglect for the program makes more resources available to people in need of assistance more than themselves. However, it’s a federally funded program with no limit, so the resources won’t dwindle.

“People say ‘Well, I won’t apply for that so I can save it for someone who needs it more,'” Seeman said, asserting that is not the case. “It’s not like a program that has a cap on it. Their benefits apply to everybody.”

For additional info on applying for Food Assistance, call the Portage County Department of Job and Family Services at 330-297-3750 or download the application online at

Contact public affairs reporter Jeremy Nobile at [email protected].