Oregon’s Department of Human Services is changing its rules so that immigrant families harmed by welfare reform can receive more federally-funded food stamp benefits. The agency committed to the change this week following a community meeting in Northeast Portland with the State food stamp program coordinator. The agency has yet to commit to an implementation schedule.
“The foot-dragging is half over,” said Michael Leachman, policy analyst at the Oregon Center for Public Policy, noting that advocates for immigrants have been asking the agency for months to change the rules. “Now that the agency has committed to change the rules, they need to commit to a tight timeline for implementation,” he added.
As part of welfare reform in 1996, Congress denied benefits to most legal immigrants. Two years later, Congress restored benefits to some legal immigrants, most of whom were children, elderly, or disabled. Most adult legal immigrants remain ineligible for benefits. The federal food stamp rules allow for income earned by these adults to be ignored when determining the amount of benefits other household members can receive. Oregon, until now, has chosen to ignore only a portion of the income.
“Families like mine are very thankful for this change,” said Geraldo Jimenez, a leader with CAUSA (Oregon’s immigrant rights coalition) who has called on the agency to make the change. “We work hard and pay taxes, but sometimes we need help putting a decent meal on the table,” he added.
The agency’s decision comes on the heels of a meeting this past Monday in Northeast Portland. The hundred people at the forum called on the State’s food stamp program coordinator to make the change. Monday’s meeting was sponsored by CAUSA, Oregon Action, the Rural Organizing Project, and the Oregon Center for Public Policy.
“The outpouring of support for this change demonstrated at our meeting on Monday obviously had an impact,” said RuthAlice Anderson of Oregon Action.
At the meeting the agency refused to commit to make the change. Subsequent to the meeting, however, two different Department of Human Services officials notified the Oregon Center for Public Policy that the agency would make the requested rule change, but would not commit to a timeframe for implementation.
The release two weeks ago of a report by the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP) entitled, “Restoring Food Stamp Benefits to Immigrants and Refugees in Oregon” also built pressure on the agency to make the change. The report detailed how the change would work and outlined how a hypothetical family would benefit.