Beginning January 1, 2013, many local families and individuals who receive Food Assistance (formerly known as Food Stamps) will see a $23 decrease in their benefits. This reduction is due to a change in the state’s Standard Utility Allowance, which is used in the federal government’s formula for determining the benefits that a household can receive in Food Assistance.
The Standard Utility Allowance allows families who are responsible for paying one or more eligible utility bills to receive a larger monthly food assistance benefit, because families with higher utility bills have less money available to spend on food. Eligible utility bills include heating fuel (gas or oil), electricity, water, sewer, trash collection and telephone.
Federal law requires the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) to recalculate the Standard Utility Allowance each year. In order to do this, ODJFS gathers information regarding the costs of utilities from around the state and from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. These numbers are then submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) for approval.
This year, the decrease in the cost of natural gas along with a warmer than usual winter in 2012 led to a significant reduction in the 2013 Standard Utility Allowance. This decrease in the Standard Utility Allowance is resulting in lower monthly Food Assistance benefit amounts for families in Ohio who take the allowance. While we understand that not all households use natural gas and may not have seen a reduction in their heating bills, the federal government requires that all Food Assistance recipients who use the Standard Utility Allowance receive the reduction in benefits, no matter how they heat their homes.
If no other circumstances in the case change, the decrease in the 2013 standard utility allowance means an approximate $23 a month decrease in benefits for many households. Families and individuals who take the Standard Utility Allowance will see their monthly benefit change beginning in January 2013.
Some households may also see additional reductions in their Food Assistance benefits on Jan. 1, 2013 if their Social Security benefits or Ohio Works First benefits increase at that time.
Any Food Assistance recipient who disagrees with a reduction in benefits is eligible to request a state hearing. All Food Assistance recipients whose benefits are changing should have already received a notice in the mail, and instructions for how to ask for a state hearing are included in the mailing. For more information on requesting a state hearing, call the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Consumer Access Line at 1-866-635-3748.