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Proposed Rule Change Threaten Food Stamp Benefits For Oregonians

<p>Shoppers stock up on supplies at New Seasons in Southeast Portland's Sellwood neighborhood, Feb. 20, 2018 as a snowstorm moves into the city.</p>

John Rosman

Shoppers stock up on supplies at New Seasons in Southeast Portland's Sellwood neighborhood, Feb. 20, 2018 as a snowstorm moves into the city.

Officials at Oregon’s Department of Human Services are crunching numbers, trying to determine how many food stamp recipients might be impacted by a federal proposal to toughen eligibility requirements for SNAP benefits.

The Trump administration announced this week that it plans on “closing a loophole” that had previously made recipients of “minimal” benefits through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, known as TANF, automatically eligible for SNAP. Oregon is one of 43 states that qualifies certain TANF recipients for SNAP benefits without requiring the applicant to again verify their income and report their expenses.

“For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in a press release. “Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint.”

The administration estimates 3.1 million Americans could lose their SNAP benefits under the rule change, which it claimed would save the Department of Agriculture billions of dollars. Jennifer Grentz, a spokesperson with Oregon’s Department of Human Services, said the agency’s policy team is currently trying to figure out how many of those live in Oregon.

“We know that if that change went into effect, it would affect Oregonians that are currently receiving SNAP or those that could become eligible,” Grentz said.

According to 2017 data, which the agency said was the most recent available, about 100,000 Oregonians receive cash assistance through TANF and roughly 911,000 receive SNAP food benefits.

“A lot of Oregonians are facing hunger and food insecurity because of the high costs of living here,” said Jeff Kleen, a public policy advocate at Oregon Food Bank. “Reducing categorical eligibility will have a disproportionate impact.”

Kleen said, for the past 15 years, Oregon has allowed people receiving minimal benefits through TANF to qualify for SNAP. He believes the provision fueled the state’s evolution from being “one of the very top states in terms of level of hunger and food insecurity” to a state that’s more middle of the pack. From 2014 to 2016, Oregon had the 14th highest rate of food insecurity in the country, according to the  Oregon Center for Public Policy.

If the rollback happens, Kleen said he fears “we’re going to see increased rates of hunger, increased demand on food banks, and, ultimately, weaker communities and families.”

The rule will be published Wednesday and remain open for public comment for 60 days.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rebecca Ellis is a reporter with Oregon Public Broadcasting. Before joining OPB, she was a Kroc Fellow at NPR, filing stories for the National Desk in Washington D.C. and reporting from Salt Lake City.