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The program helps where it's most needed, and it's money well spent

Oregon editors say:Food stamp news is good

The (Pendleton) East Oregonian

Good news. More people eligible for food stamps in Oregon are receiving them.

In a state that's become notorious the last couple of years for its high rate of hunger, that is indeed good news. Don't pay attention to people who moan about wasting tax dollars on food stamps and exaggerate the incidences of abuse. The fact is the great majority of people on food stamps use them properly, and rely on them to make it through awkward times between jobs, while recovering from injury or to help the working poor make ends meet when child care and other costs eat away at the food budget.

Look at it this way: Should anyone begrudge a former Sykes or Simplot employee collecting food stamps while seeking other employment? Oregon ranked among the highest in the nation in the share of eligible residents who received food stamps in 2001, and the number of qualified recipients who participate in the federally funded program continues to increase.

That's not all good, because it's an indictment on the economy. But we're lucky there's a safety-net program like food stamps.

Because of the federal food-stamp program, many Oregon families who are struggling to make ends meet are able to feed their children, protecting them from the long-term consequences of hunger, Gov. Ted Kulongoski said recently when the U.S. Department of Agriculture applauded Oregon's food stamp outreach efforts.

— What are those long-term consequences? Poor performance in school, worsening chances of future success. Higher susceptibility to illness, creating an even greater financial burden to families already in distress. Increased frustration and lack of patience, increasing the chance of domestic arguments.

Eighty-four percent of eligible Oregonians received food stamps in 2001, according to USDA data, and nearly 74,000 persons have enrolled since the end of that year. That coincides with data reflecting high rates of Oregon food insecurity, which surfaced from 2000-02. Oregon has been a leader in the percentage of eligible food stamp clients receiving benefits thanks to outreach programs such as contracts with food banks and other community partners to publicize the availability of food stamps, expansion of eligibility to improve access for low-income individuals and families, and streamlining the programs' administration to speed enrollment.

Food stamps now reach more than 420,000 Oregonians with &

36;35 million in monthly benefits. That's money well spent.