40-Fold Increase in Oregonians Seeking Food Assistance, Benefits Delayed

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the number of Oregonians applying for aid from food assistance programs has increased more than 40-fold, according to a recent report from The Bend Bulletin   

A few weeks ago, the number of applications rose to around 13,000 a week, with processing times reaching 10-12 days in some cases. Employees across the Department of Human Services had to be redeployed to help keep pace with this sudden upsurge. 

Pre-pandemic workflow: Typically, these programs—which include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Aid for Needy Families—receive about 1,300 applications a month statewide, with an average response time of 24-48 hours. In recent weeks, the uptick has eased to about 8,200 applications a week, with an average processing time of around four days.  

While SNAP is federally funded, TANF—which provides households with cash to spend on clothing, rent and utilities—relies partly on funding from the state. This means the program could be subject to budget cuts in the coming months as the state prepares for imminent revenue shortfalls. 

Sen. Gelser reveals painful choices: Quoted in the Bulletin piece is local State Senator Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, who serves as the Senate Human Services Chair. Gelser characterizes the upcoming budget-related decisions about what to cut and what to keep as a painful choice between economic and health impacts:   

 “I think it’s irresponsible for me or any public official to tell people that things are going to be OK and their program is not going to be affected,” Gelser said. “It’s just not possible.” 

Senator Gelser told the Bulletin that she wants to make sure people who must continue to stay home because of age or underlying conditions are taken care of as much as small business owners are. She also notes that the people who will be going back to work first are also the people who are working the lowest wage jobs and will continue to need help paying for food and medical care.  

“We’re really going to have to be thinking of those things in terms of budget and policy as we move forward if we want Oregon to recover and we want an economy that doesn’t build itself on health and social inequities based on class and race,” she said. 

By JD Brookbank