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Demand For Food Assistance In Oregon Continues To Soar Amid Pandemic

People box food for a food pantry.
Joel Muniz

Layoffs and furloughs have caused many people to seek help from Oregon’s food pantries amid the coronavirus pandemic. With federal unemployment benefits ending this Saturday, Oregon Food Bank leaders say demand for food assistance will likely increase.

"This is a hundred-year flood of hunger,” says Oregon Food Bank CEO Susannah Morgan. “We have seen the number of people requesting food assistance on average double across the state and through Southwest Washington."

Morgan says some pantries are serving more people in a month than they normally would in an entire year.

Meanwhile, thousands of unemployed Oregonians are relying on federal unemployment benefits of $600 a week, which is set to end in Oregon on July 25.

Morgan issued a statement calling on Congress to extend unemployment benefits as well as other social safety programs that have been helping low-income families through this pandemic, including one that makes it easier for people to access food stamps. She says the Oregon food stamp program, known as SNAP, has seen a 400 percent increase in applications.

In the statement, Morgan also suggested that Congress establish an emergency assistance fund that states could use to help people who aren’t eligible for other benefits, like people who are undocumented.

For example, she said, many families missed out on $1,200 stimulus checks allocated by the federal government in the spring because they had a family member who was undocumented.

“We've heard of families where the father and the kids were citizens, but the mother wasn't, and so no one in the family got that $1,200 from the government,” Morgan says. “We think it’s morally abhorrent that we would pick and choose which of our neighbors we want to survive and thrive through this pandemic.”

April Ehrlich is JPR content partner at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Prior to joining OPB, she was a regional reporter at Jefferson Public Radio where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.