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Study Finds Federal Money to Feed Oregonians Food Stamp Outreach Potential Analyzed

News Release
November 19, 1998

As many Oregonians prepare for Thanksgiving and think about an abundance of food, a new study demonstrates that Oregon could provide Thanksgiving dinners for over 4,500 more low income Oregonians. The study, released today by the Oregon Center for Public Policy, analyzes the budgetary and economic implications of an outreach effort designed to increase participation in the food stamp program.

According to the study, a $300,000 investment by the state, with equal federal matching funds, in a well-designed and targeted outreach effort, could bring in as much as $3.5 million in federal food stamp assistance. "It is a good investment for Oregon and for Oregon's low-income families," noted Charles Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP). "The state would receive over eleven times its investment."

The food stamp program provides a basic safety net for nearly a quarter million poor and near-poor Oregonians, many of whom work and do not receive cash assistance. The federal government pays the entire cost for the food stamp benefits, and the administrative costs are shared between the federal government and the state. About 223,000 Oregonians receive food stamp benefits each month, and more than one-half (140,000) do not receive cash assistance.

"About 80 percent of Oregonians eligible for this federal assistance participate in the program. Because Oregon does virtually no outreach to the other 20 percent, in 1997 Oregonians did not take advantage of an estimated $30 million in federal food assistance," said Sheketoff.

The OCPP study noted that while children and single parent households with children have high participation rates, elderly households, households with children and two or more adults, and households without children, typically have low food stamp participation rates.

"Today, the best participation rates occur among households where the family is getting food stamp benefits along with cash assistance. Our study looked at what might happen if Oregon reached out to low-income working families," said Sheketoff.

Eligible families do not take advantage of food stamps for a variety of reasons. The study noted that working-poor families often do not know that they are eligible, rural areas typically have low participation rates due to physical access and transportation barriers, and some families choose not to seek assistance because the food stamp benefits to which they are entitled are small.

The analysis of the potential for an outreach program used data from a U.S. Department of Agriculture demonstration program that funded 16 outreach efforts by non-profit organizations around the country. The OCPP study projected high, middle, and low enrollment scenarios based on the outcomes from the USDA study. The study calculated the potential impacts of annually spending $600,000 of state and federal funds on an outreach program, an amount comparable to Washington State's outreach program in recent years. While a high enrollment program would result in over 4,500 individuals receiving over $3.5 million in food assistance over 13.6 months, a median enrollment would result in over 1,900 individuals receiving $1.49 million in assistance.

"The potential benefits from an outreach effort demonstrates the need to have a well-designed, targeted, and well-coordinated program," said Sheketoff. "It is important to learn from the experiences in other states that have conducted outreach efforts." Since enactment of the Hunger Prevention Act of 1988 states have been eligible for 50 percent federal cost reimbursement on activities related to client outreach. Oregon has never implemented an outreach program.

The study also calculated the economic impacts of an outreach effort. A $3.5 million infusion of federal food stamp benefits has the potential to create over 75 jobs with an average wage of $21,830, or a total payroll of more than $1.6 million.

"The most important impact from this small investment is food for thousands of Oregonians. The jobs are the icing on the cake, making the decision to undertake an outreach effort that much more attractive," said Ellen Lowe, Chair of the Oregon Hunger Relief Task Force.

The study was prepared for the Oregon Center for Public Policy by John Tapogna, a research economist with ECONorthwest. Tapogna has provided economic, budgetary and analytic support to national, state and local level governments in the United States and overseas. He was a welfare analyst at the U.S. Congressional Budget Office where he forecasted the nation's welfare spending and estimated the cost of key Congressional legislation.

The study, Budgetary and Spending Implications of a Food Stamp Outreach Program, is available from the Oregon Center for Public Policy ($5.00 shipping and handling, except to the media). The study is also available for free on the OCPP's web page, www.ocpp.org. The Oregon Center for Public Policy is a Silverton-based, nonpartisan research group that analyzes budget and tax issues and government programs, and their impacts on low to moderate income Oregonians.

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