Child Health

Ohio Sees Deep Declines in Child Benefit Enrollment: Economic Improvement May Only Tell Part of the Story

August 1, 2019

Dr. Nicole Thomas, Manager, Research and Data

Dr. Tracy Nájera, Executive Director


COLUMBUS – Child enrollment in public benefits saw major declines according to the latest data from Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio and its KIDS COUNT 2019 Fact Sheets released today. Children receiving SNAP/Food Stamps fell from 34.1 in 2017 to 32.1 percent in 2018 (amounting to over 50,000 children), the largest decline over a single year in nearly a decade. When comparing the last two years, this deep decline is even more apparent, with over 90,000 fewer children receiving SNAP/Food Stamps in 2018 than in 2016. Ohio Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) dropped by 30,000 children since the 2016 Ohio KIDS COUNT Fact Sheets. Some data suggest this change was accompanied by a rise in the number of uninsured children after record low uninsured child rates.

The dramatic enrollment decline captured the attention of advocates, lawmakers, and even the Ohio Department of Medicaid, all asking for information about the drop in Child Medicaid enrollment.  In addition, concerns also exist that changes to SNAP rules by the Trump Administration will drive additional enrollment declines for children and families as the move is anticipated to result in more than 3 million people losing benefits.

Ohio’s economy, like most other states, experienced growth and historically low unemployment rates in recent years, which is typically accompanied by lower enrollment in public benefits as wages grow. However, enrollment declines are not always so easily explained, especially among low-income individuals who may not see the same wage growth. Research shows that individuals with the lowest incomes often fall in and out eligibility and enrollment in public benefits, largely because their incomes are the most volatile. Further, eligible individuals from certain minority groups, young adults between the ages of 19-24, and those who have the lowest incomes, are most likely to not enroll at all.

“The economy is improving and children should reap the benefits – especially when families are earning higher incomes and have the ability to enroll in their employers’ benefits plans. However, it’s important that we verify that children leaving these programs are doing so because their circumstances have improved; not that they’ve been disenrolled because of an administrative burden or some other adverse circumstance,” said Tracy Nájera, Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio Executive Director.

While an improving economy may explain the declines in part, many experts are concerned about the role played by political, policy, and administrative challenges in benefit disenrollment. For example, many point to policy that has weakened communications about eligibility and how to enroll in Medicaid. In addition, the debate on Public Charge rules may have dissuaded eligible individuals who are immigrants and refugees from enrolling in public benefits for themselves or their children.

The Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio’s KIDS COUNT 2019 Fact Sheets highlights many of these trends and indicators of child well-being including the following:

Poverty – The percentage of Ohio children living in poverty has decreased consistently since 2011 and is now at 19.8% (Est. 507,000 children).

Nutrition – The percentage of Ohio children receiving SNAP/Food Stamps fell from 34.1 to 32.1 percent, the largest decline in nearly a decade.

Education – Statewide, the percentage of children enrolled in publicly-funded child care remained around 6.9 percent.

Health – Over 30,000 fewer Ohio children are enrolled in Medicaid/CHIP since 2016, down from 54.6 percent in 2016 to 53.8 percent of children in 2018 (eligibility is up to 200% of federal poverty line).

“There are many ways we could do better to ensure that no child in Ohio lacks access to basic needs like health care coverage or food assistance. We are calling on our state leaders to lean in hard on interagency data sharing like the InnovateOhio platform, to dig in deep and disaggregate data by important groups to track family and child program disenrollment, and to enhance data transparency and access to information detailing the reasons why children are disenrolling,” said Nájera. “We need these data for collaboration between state agencies, stakeholders and communities who share in the interest to ensure that children who qualify for services receive the health coverage, food, or other assistance they need to thrive into successful adulthood.”


The Children’s Defense Fund Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.