Demand for food stamps climbs in Oregon

SALEM — Despite early signs of economic recovery, demand for food stamps continues to rise in Oregon.

State social services officials have watched the need rise for months across Oregon, but recently released numbers that show 635,033 Oregonians received food stamps last month — a 31 percent increase over last year — surprised even them.

Typically, demand slows or drops during the summer months. That hasn’t happened this year.

The Oregon Food Bank is also setting records. The Bank gave away 897,000 emergency food boxes in the past year, more than ever before.

“We’ve never seen distribution of emergency food boxes at levels this high,” Jean Kempe-Ware, an Oregon Food Bank spokeswoman, told The Oregonian.

Vic Todd, the administrator for the state’s office of self-sufficiency says the numbers suggest families will continue to struggle as the economy slowly recovers and laid-off workers use up their unemployment benefits. A bad flu season, he noted, could also spark greater need.

The growth in need seems to be coming from professionals who have lost their jobs and those who have never sought assistance before, according to state caseworkers.

Pay cuts, layoffs and fewer work hours all mean families that had never had trouble putting food on the table are now struggling to get by, officials say.

In order to qualify for food stamps a family of four can earn no more than $3,400 per month. Assets, such as a house or car, aren’t considered.

At least three-quarters of the households receiving benefits for June had some income, according to an analysis by the Department of Human Services.

About 40 percent of the food stamp recipients in June were younger than 18.

Caseworkers have been pushing families with children to sign up for the program because it also means they are eligible for reduced-cost lunch at school.

Older Oregonians, meanwhile, have been slow to take advantage. Though people 60 and older make up about 16 percent of the state’s population, they accounted for only 8 percent of the June numbers.

Todd said seniors may have incomes that are more stable as compared to younger families. It’s also possible that they can’t make it to the state office for help, don’t want to ask for government handouts or are getting food from other sources.

Whatever the case, state labor economist Art Ayre says it’s difficult to tell which group may be suffering the most during these difficult economic times.

“We did look at unemployment by age not too long ago,” he said, “it looked like everyone is taking a hit.”

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