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Monday, 11-September-2006
Associated Press - NELSONVILLE, Ohio - About one in every five children in rural Ohio is living in poverty, an increase of 5.6 percent since 2000, according to a study of census figures.

Advocates for the poor say the numbers are disturbing. Living below the poverty line can cause a child's health and education to suffer, leading to long-term problems such as malnutrition and unemployment.

Ohio is one of five states to have at least a 5 percent increase in children living in poverty in rural areas, according a report by the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute, which analyzed census data collected in 2000 and 2005. The others are Indiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Maine.

"A hungry child cannot learn. And I guarantee you they will grow up to be an adult who cannot earn," said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks.

Hamler-Fugitt said the organization is feeding one of out every three households in some areas of the state. "The last three distributions I've been at, we've run out of food," she said.

Ohio had 100,002 children age 18 or younger living in rural areas below the poverty line in 2005, the report said. At the time, the poverty line was $19,806 for a family of two adults and two children.

Poor nutrition can contribute to obesity, diabetes and other health problems, said Rami Yoakum, spokesman for the Ross County Health District in southern Ohio. About 2,326 of the county's 69,000 residents qualified for the federal Women, Infants and Children food assistance program last month, up from 278 in July 2002.

Ross is one of 29 Ohio counties in Appalachia, a region where unemployment is much higher than the statewide average, and in most counties, one in five families lives on less than $22,000 a year.

About 1,000 people in Ross and neighboring Pickaway County lost their jobs in 2004 when an electronics plant closed in Circleville, further reducing access to well-paying jobs.

In Pickaway County, the number of families with children receiving Medicaid and food stamps increased by 710 in the past four years to 2,418, said Rojanne Woodward, job and family services director. The county's population is 52,000.

Hamler-Fugitt praised a program started in southeastern Ohio three years ago that gives healthy food to needy elementary school-age children every Friday to take home for the weekend.

"It doesn't seem much that you're providing, but teachers can see noticeable changes in the children," said Dick Stevens, a director at Hocking-Athens-Perry Community Action, which helped start the program. "Hunger starts out so subtly, but it can have a tragic outcome."

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