The number of Southern Oregonians using food stamps climbed to record levels, state officials say.

The number of Southern Oregonians using food stamps has climbed to record levels, state officials say.

In Jackson and Josephine counties, January usage increased 19.3 percent from a year ago, the state Department of Human Services reported.

The department also reported cash assistance to needy families for Jackson and Josephine Counties rose 23.2 percent from a year ago.

"We've never seen this before," said Lauri Stewart, a state spokeswoman. "These are record numbers. It comes from the largest unemployment we've seen since World War II."

Food Stamps, now issued as plastic Oregon Trail cards, were in use by about every third person Thursday at Shop N Kart in Ashland, where client Gabe Granach, 18, said, "Life would be a lot harder without being 'on the trail' (food card). I eat much better. Before the card, I used to eat the cheapest produce I could find."

He gets $185 a month added to his card, said Granach, who is looking for work.

To receive the card, applicants must be below 185 percent of the federal poverty line, which is $3,400 a month for a family of four, $2,247 for two people and $1,670 for one person, said Stewart.

— John Darling, for the Mail Tribune