Data released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicate that Oregon's hunger rate has improved since the mid-1990s. However, Oregon's hunger and food insecurity rates remain significantly higher than the national rates.
In the 2001-03 period, 4.3 percent of Oregon households included someone who went hungry at times during the year. This is an improvement from 6.0 percent in 1996-98, but still higher than the national rate of 3.4 percent.
"Those fighting hunger in Oregon deserve credit for improving Oregon's hunger rate, primarily by increasing access to food stamps," said Michael Leachman, policy analyst for the Oregon Center for Public Policy. At the urging of advocacy groups, Oregon's Department of Human Services increased the income limit for accessing food stamps in 2000 and changed the rules to allow recipients to own a reliable car. An outreach effort, led by the Oregon Hunger Relief Task Force, subsequently increased participation among eligible families.
"The improvement in hunger shows that government programs work when they have enough resources. By increasing access to food stamps across Oregon, we've made a significant dent in Oregon's hunger problem." Leachman noted that food stamps are almost entirely paid for by the federal government, and therefore have not been subject to the state budget cuts that have diminished other programs.
Leachman emphasized that Oregon has been improving access to food assistance at the same time that the state has been cutting access to the Oregon Health Plan and childcare subsidies. "We have made it easier for families to get food at the same time we've made it more difficult for them to get medical assistance or childcare," said Leachman. "Our gains against hunger may be offset in the longer term by backsliding in other areas."
Leachman also pointed out that some of the improvement in Oregon's hunger rate is likely due to a change in the national hunger survey, rather than to actual improvement in the lives of Oregonians. Since 2001, the national survey has been conducted in early December. Previously, the survey had been conducted in April, August, or September. Research by the US Department of Agriculture has found seasonal variations in hunger rates nationally, depending on when the survey is conducted.
"Early December may be a relatively good time for hunger in Oregon. Holiday and other seasonal jobs haven't yet disappeared, and school is still in session, so school lunch programs are available," Leachman said.
The Oregon Center for Public Policy 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. The Center's Web site is www.ocpp.org.