Oregon was the only state in the country to see a statistically significant decline in its hunger rate in recent years, according to a report released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nationally, the USDA report found that between 2003 and 2004 food insecurity and hunger worsened. The national hunger rate increased from 3.5 percent in 2003 to 3.9 percent in 2004, while the food insecurity rate rose from 11.2 percent to 11.9 percent.
Oregon’s improvement demonstrates the effectiveness of Oregon’s efforts to expand access to food stamps, according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy. Oregon’s expansion of food stamps and hunger gains, though, may be reversed by cuts to the Food Stamp Program being proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives and the Bush Administration.
“Oregonians should celebrate the improvement in hunger, but we should also be very concerned that our progress may be undermined by decisions pending in Washington, D.C.,” said Michael Leachman, a policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy who has studied the hunger data.
The USDA report, based on data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, found that 3.8 percent of Oregon households included members who went hungry at times in 2002-04. This compares with a rate of 5.8 percent in 1999-01 and a rate of 6.0 in 1996-98. Oregon’s hunger rate is now not statistically different than the national rate.
“Oregon is no longer an outlier on hunger,” said Leachman. “We have made impressive gains in recent years. But because no hunger is acceptable, we still have work to do.” Leachman said that with many states bunched near the national rate and the error ranges inherent to all surveys, Oregon’s 16th in the nation ranking is not considered very precise. “The bottom line is that Oregon is now in the middle of the pack among the states,” he said.
In 2000, faced with one of the nation’s highest hunger rates, Oregon raised the income limit for families to be eligible for Food Stamps. Today, the maximum income a family of four can make while remaining eligible for food stamps is about $35,800. Under the previous rules, the maximum for a family of four would have been about $25,200 this year.
At the same time, Oregon also amended its rules to allow struggling families who needed food stamps to own more reliable cars and other basic assets. These improvements, along with an aggressive outreach effort, sharply increased the number of Oregon families eligible for food stamps. The number of Oregonians receiving food stamps jumped 81 percent between August 2000 and August 2005 because of these policy changes as well as increased demand caused by the economic downturn.
“The U.S. House of Representatives and the Bush Administration want to eliminate the provision Oregon used to increase the income limit and to eliminate the car value limit for food stamps,” said Leachman. “If they succeed in eliminating this provision, Oregon would have to take Food Stamps away from thousands of families, dealing a blow to our recent success in reducing our hunger rate.”
The USDA report also noted that in 2002-04 11.9 percent of Oregon households struggled to get food on the table and typically reduced the quality of meals because there is not enough money for food. This rate, the food insecurity rate, also improved in Oregon since 1999-01, when the rate was 13.7 percent. Similar to the figures on hunger, Oregon’s food insecurity rate is on par with the national rate and Oregon’s food insecurity rank of 19th places Oregon in the middle of the pack because the rankings are not precise and the survey has error ranges.
The Oregon Center for Public Policy uses research and analysis to advance policies and practices that improve the economic and social opportunities of all Oregonians.