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DHS news release

May 4, 2004

Contact:Jim Sellers (503) 945-5738
Program contact: Michael Koentop, USDA 415-859-1842 (cell)

More food-stamp usage might be lessening Oregon's hunger problem

[Pronouncer: Bost rhymes with "cost"]

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.

On Tuesday, an official from the U.S. Department of Agriculture was in Salem to applaud Oregon's food stamp outreach efforts.

"We know that food stamps make America stronger, and Oregon is on the front line of this Administration's commitment to ensure access to all those who qualify for benefits," said Eric M. Bost, U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. "We applaud the state for its efforts to fight hunger and improve access to the Food Stamp Program for all those who are eligible."

Eighty-four percent of eligible Oregonians received food stamps in 2001, according to USDA data, and nearly 74,000 persons have enrolled since December 2001. Data reflecting high rates of Oregon "food insecurity" are for 2000-02.

Bost spoke Tuesday at one of three low-income Salem schools participating in a federally financed food-stamp outreach project run in conjunction with Willamette University, the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) and others.

Food stamps now reach more than 420,000 Oregonians with $35 million in monthly benefits.

"Although we know that federal food programs are an intermedia response - not a long-term solution - to Oregon's hunger problem, these programs provide a valuable source of food for Oregon's hungry families," said Gov. Ted Kulongoski. "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."

DHS Director Gary Weeks said dramatic statewide increases in food-stamp usage resulted in part from factors that included successful outreach to working poor households by the agency and by food-stamp advocates; contracts with food banks and other community partners to publicize food stamps' availability; expansion of eligibility to improve access for low-income individuals and families and streamline policy administration; and "sudden service" that sped enrollment in some DHS field offices.

"Trust me, if kids are hungry they won't concentrate on their spelling or arithmetic," Weeks said. "Fighting hunger is everybody's business, which is why this project is a team effort of the school district, Willamette University, USDA, and DHS."

Weeks said almost 170,000 of Oregon's food-stamp recipients are under age 18, of whom nearly 124,000 are under age 12. In the three Salem schools, workers provided outreach to parents at a variety of school events, sent fliers home with students, and contacted others in the surrounding neighborhoods.

"Many Oregonians who would benefit from food stamps still are not receiving them," said Patti Whitney-Wise, executive director of the Oregon Hunger Relief Task Force, a statewide advocacy group created by the 1989 Legislature. "The Task Force has also found that outreach through schools is a very effective strategy in reaching eligible families, as well as in building community relationships."

Federal statistics on the national and state-by-state prevalence of household food security are released annually in the fall. The most recent statistics reflecting the prevalence of food insecurity and hunger in Oregon are for 2000-02.