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Oregonians Could Go Hungry Under Food Assistance Rule Change


Thursday, March 21, 2019   

PORTLAND, Ore. – The federal government's proposed changes to food assistance eligibility has hunger fighting groups across the nation concerned.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to take away states' ability to issue waivers suspending the three-month limit over three years for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to able bodied people who aren't working at least 20 hours a week.

The new rule would kick an estimated 755,000 people off of SNAP nationwide.

Jeff Kleen, public policy advocate for Oregon Food Bank, says waivers typically are issued to rural counties with high unemployment, and SNAP is a vital program for these residents.

"SNAP is often times the only form of public assistance that they are eligible for,” he points out. “So, by taking that away, they really are left without any kind of support."

Twenty-three Oregon counties utilize these waivers.

Kleen notes that a similar proposal in the 2018 Farm Bill was rejected by Congress. He adds that food pantries would struggle to fill the gap because SNAP feeds 12 times as many Oregonians as pantries do.

The proposed change is part of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue's push to make people more self-sufficient. Public comments on the change will be accepted until April 2.

Barbara Garcia became acquainted with SNAP during the government shutdown. She and her husband work for the government and applied for assistance while furloughed.

She says she was surprised and grateful for the program.

Garcia says it's nice to know there's a program in place to help with the bare essentials when people are struggling.

"If we were to change too many of the requirements and make this more about a jobs program than the benefit itself, I think it would be diluted and that would be really unfortunate," she states.

Kleen says folks face a number of obstacles to finding jobs, including lack of transportation, the wrong skills for the local market, unstable living conditions and discrimination.

He adds that even people who are not able bodied but have not received a medical diagnosis could be purged from benefit rolls under this rule.

"If they struggle to keep up with paperwork and file it properly and in a timely fashion, I really worry about the people that will get caught up in the additional administrative hoops and bureaucracy that will be involved in enforcing this time limit," he points out.

More than 600,000 Oregonians receive food assistance each month.

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