Boost in Food Stamp Funds Boosts Economy

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The Ohio Direction card replaced food stamps in 2008.(Photo: ODJFS)
The Ohio Direction card replaced food stamps in 2008.(Photo: ODJFS)

For the past four months, food stamp recipients in central Ohio have been receiving an average of nearly 30% more money. The increase is part of the federal government’s plan to stimulate the economy. There is some evidence that is beginning to register in the Columbus area.

The number of people receiving food stamps in Ohio has risen by more than 20% in the past year. In Franklin County, that means about one in every five residents carries the Ohio Direction card – a debit-type card that last year replaced paper food stamps.

Brian Harter of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services says each recipient’s card is being credited with as much as $24 more per month. And people are likely to put that money back into the economy right away.

The USDA says every $5 in new food stamp benefits generates $9.20 in total economic activity. Some of that activity is registering at the seven Columbus-area Save-a- Lot discount grocery stores.

Steven Coughlin manages the store on Harrisburg Pike just southwest of downtown. As many as 70% of his customers receive federal food assistance, and food stamp business in his store is up by some seven percent. He says all Columbus area Save-a-Lot stores have seen increases in redemption of Ohio Direction Card dollars running as high as 5% since the federal stimulus funding began.

State and federal officials hope recipients will use the extra money to buy fresh fruit and vegetables which are often unaffordable for low income families. Brian Harter says families are likely to invest their additional dollars in foods that are both healthy and filling.

North Market Executive Director David Wible says his organization recently began accepting the Ohio Direction Card at the Farmers Market on Saturdays. While he says it’s too soon to tell if vendors at the farmers market are seeing increases in business, Wible says the North Market is close to a number of underserved communities.

Wible says the state reimburses North Market on a monthly basis That turnaround time might be a sticking point for many vendors of fresh produce.

Shoppers at the twice weekly farmers market along Pearl Alley in downtown Columbus enjoy live music as they peruse food and refreshment stands. The market includes seven vendors who offer fresh produce. None of the seven accepts the Ohio Direction card. One farmer who declined to give his name said he cannot wait weeks for the state to reimburse him. He has people who pick produce today and need to be paid today.

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