Hungry holidays

Oregon ranks high in reliance on food stamps; local efforts must fill the gap

Would it surprise you to learn that the six states where 20 percent of the population or more are on food stamps are Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico — and Oregon?

A story in Wednesday's USA Today highlights our state's reliance on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Oregon's poverty rate is just a hair below the national average at 14.8 percent — but its official unemployment rate of 7.7 percent is greater than the national average of 7.3 percent.

It's no secret that the jobless rate in Southern Oregon is considerably worse: it was a seasonally adjusted 9.5 percent in October, according to the Oregon Employment Department. Josephine County's was 10.6 percent.

That means the temporary increase in monthly SNAP benefits that expired Nov. 1 hit especially hard on families struggling to keep food on the table. And another deadline looms at the end of the year if Congress cannot agree on reauthorizing the federal program.

House Republicans want to cut $40 billion from SNAP over 10 years. The Senate has proposed a $4.5 billion cut. Congress goes on recess for Christmas on Dec. 13. So far, there is little sign of progress in reconciling the House and Senate proposals.

Republicans point to the dramatic increase in SNAP recipients — the number has nearly doubled since 2006 — as evidence of waste, fraud and abuse. Democrats say it's the result of the economic downturn, which is only now beginning to ease.

In Oregon, the lack of jobs — and in Southern Oregon, the relatively low pay of the jobs that do exist — is behind the state's ranking.

If ever there was a holiday season to think of those struggling to get by and to help where you can, it is this one. The annual ACCESS Inc. Food for Hope drive kicked off last week.

Drop off grocery bags full of nonperishable food items at any fire station, Sherm's Thunderbird and Food 4 Less or Umpqua Bank. Or send a check to ACCESS Food for Hope, P.O. Box 4666, Medford, OR 97501. ACCESS can buy five meals for every $1 donated. See www.accesshelps.org.

We have little confidence that Congress will manage to agree to continue food assistance to those who need it. But we have every confidence in the ability of this community to step up, as it has so often in the past.


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