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Success Against Hunger May Be Lost

Commentary
February 20, 2005By Michael Leachman

First, the good news: Oregon's hunger rate has improved since the late 1990s. Though our rate is still high, we appear to be heading in the right direction.

The primary reason for Oregon's modest improvement? We made it easier for families working in low-wage jobs to get food stamps. In late 2000, faced with one of the nation's worst hunger rates, Oregon changed its eligibility rules. A family of three can earn 43 percent more now and still get the vital food stamp benefits. The changes also allowed food stamp families to own a reliable car.

Research has shown that Oregon's hunger rate is high compared to other states in part because low-wage working families are a lot more likely to go hungry in Oregon than similar families in other states. That's why Oregon's decision to get food stamps to more of these families was a smart policy choice. We've reduced hunger since 2000 in large part because we got more of these federal food dollars into Oregon to help our working families. The extra federal money has also meant more money coming into the local economies of communities across Oregon.

Now for the bad news: President Bush wants to eliminate the provision that Oregon used to expand our food stamp program. If the President gets his way, Oregon will immediately have to take food stamps away from about 11,200 Oregon families working in low-wage jobs. Another 4,500 Oregon families with elderly or disabled members could also lose access to food stamps. And an unknown number of Oregon families with a reliable car or more than $2,000 in assets would also be cut off.

The President's proposal would be a serious setback for Oregon's campaign to reduce hunger.

Senators Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden lead the Hunger Caucus in Congress. They may be able to restore the provision that allowed the expansion. Unfortunately, even if they succeed in saving this provision, other cuts the President seeks in key federal programs that invest in low-wage working families could undermine Oregon's efforts to reduce hunger. These programs include nutrition for newborns and young children, child care assistance, rental housing assistance, and other forms of investment in low-wage working families.

Is America really so broke that we can no longer afford to help children and their low-wage working parents eat three square meals a day?

It doesn't seem so; the President wants even more new tax breaks for millionaires. Two provisions that would take affect next year increase the deductions and exemptions available to wealthy families. More than half the benefit of these two new breaks will go to families earning more than a million dollars a year.

The President's budget takes food out of the cupboards of low-wage working families and hands the proceeds to extremely wealthy families. Oregon should have the flexibility to choose a different approach. After all, what we've been doing has been working.

Michael Leachman is a policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy, which uses research and analysis to advance policies and practices that improve the economic and social opportunities of low- and moderate-income Oregonians, the majority of Oregonians. He can be reached at mleachman(at)ocpp.org, at P.O. Box 7, Silverton, OR 97381, or by phone at 503-873-1201.