Ohio soon could lose a key source of support in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through an emergency authorization, the federal government is funding 75% of the Ohio National Guard's COVID-19 response work through the end of the year. Roughly 1,800 National Guard members are serving in logistical and public health roles.
Julie Chase-Morefied, president and chief executive of the Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio, said Guard members are doing the heavy lifting, "helping pull orders, loading trucks, packing boxes, sorting food donations, and then they've helped to set up drive-through mobile distributions."
U.S. Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. are leading the request for an extension of federal support. Morefield said Ohio's entire congressional delegation has signed the letter.
"We are so fortunate legislators recognize how critical the National Guard support is," she said, "not only to the food banks, but also to the medical facilities, to correctional facilities, to the nursing homes, to rolling out the vaccine."
Gov. Mike DeWine also has asked FEMA and other federal agencies to extend full federal funding for the National Guard through March 31.
While their deployments are up at the end of this month, the 360 Ohio National Guard members who are serving at food-bank warehouses will begin a two-week quarantine Dec. 17. Chase-Morefield said losing their help unfortunately comes at a time when there are fewer volunteers, and a higher demand for emergency food assistance.
"We had a distribution right before Thanksgiving, and we had over 2,600 families waiting in their cars for hours to receive food," she said, "and you can just see the concern and the worry on their faces."
Since April, she added, Ohio National Guard members have helped distribute more than 33 million pounds of food to families in need.