Representatives from the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio and Children’s Defense Fund – Ohio Thursday held a briefing about the urgent need for robust COVID-19 relief for struggling Ohio families. 
 
Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), called on U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) to help forge a bipartisan agreement to provide meaningful levels of emergency rental assistance and funding for homeless programs to prevent millions of underemployed Americans from getting evicted and becoming homeless during a pandemic. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has proposed a bold initiative for rent relief that Senate leadership has blocked for months.
 
“The situation is dire, and it’s going to get worse. It’s so irresponsible for Senate leaders to ignore the crisis facing underemployed workers in the midst of this pandemic. The Senate frittered away half the year sitting on their hands while people suffer,” Faith said. “Enough is enough. There’s no excuse for continued dithering. Let’s get this thing done.”
 
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 342,000 Ohio households are behind on rent, and 188,000 are concerned they’ll get evicted in the next two months. COHHIO says 70 percent of Ohio’s regional homeless agencies have seen an increase in unsheltered homelessness, and 75 percent of the groups lack confidence that they will be able to accommodate everyone throughout the winter while maintaining social distancing protocols.
 
Tracy Najera, executive director for Children’s Defense Fund – Ohio, similarly urged sensible bipartisan action to prevent an even worse crisis in the months and years to come.
 
“It’s stunning that we would punish anyone right now for being unable to earn enough income to support their family’s basic needs,” Najera said. “We have hundreds of thousands of children learning remotely who need support from parents or caregivers, a deadly virus that poses significant risk to public health, and a crippled economy, yet everyday we’re letting children fall through the cracks and suffer needlessly. Our children need Congress to come together and do their job.”
 
Feeding America estimates that more than one in four Ohio children – 27.1 percent – will experience food insecurity in 2020. Overall food insecurity in Ohio is estimated at 18.1 percent, tying Ohio for 10th highest in the nation. Joree Novotny, director of external affairs for the Ohio Association of Foodbanks (OAF), stressed that the effects of the pandemic will be more prolonged the longer that elected officials ignore the realities of the crisis on the ground.
 
“Hunger should not be a legacy of this pandemic,” Novotny said. “Every day that the Senate hems and haws over whether things are bad enough to provide more relief is another day borrowed from the future of our children. Here’s our message from the front lines: it’s bad enough. It’s as bad as ever.”