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Democratic lawmakers in Oregon want to make 60,000 immigrants eligible for cash food assistance


In 2021, two Oregon nonprofits involved in food aid launched a campaign to extend food assistance to people excluded from federal food benefits.

As of Monday, about 75 other nonprofits have joined the Oregon Food Bank and Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon to back a proposal in the state Legislature. Senate Bill 610, sponsored by 17 Democratic lawmakers, including Wlnsvey Campos of Aloha and James Manning Jr. of Eugene, would distribute monthly payments to people who don’t qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Currently, more than 170,000 people in Oregon receive SNAP benefits, which will average about $270 a month per household starting next month. To qualify, individuals can earn up to $2,265 a month and a family of three can make up to $3,838 a month.

Undocumented immigrants are excluded, as are residents under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. And certain non-citizens have a waiting period before becoming eligible, according to the USDA.

The coalition backing the bill says more than 60,000 people in Oregon would qualify for SNAP if they had the proper residency documents.

Their exclusion is not right, Campos said.

“Everyone in Oregon should have access to food, no matter no matter where we were born,” Campos said during an online news conference on Tuesday. “Food is a human right. Our freedom, our health, our ability to thrive all depend on access to food that is nutritious and culturally familiar, yet currently over 62,000 Oregonians are excluded from vital food assistance programs based on where they were born.”

She added: “This bill is one of our most significant opportunities this session to make concrete immediate improvements to the lives of vulnerable Oregonians.”

The bill is in the Senate Human Services Committee and the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, which determines the budget. It has not been scheduled for a hearing.

Organizers told the Capital Chronicle they do not know how much the program would cost.

“The Oregon Department of Human Services is currently working on a detailed cost analysis to determine what that amount would be, considering that programs like these often take several years to be trusted and utilized by newly eligible populations,” the coalition, Food for All Oregonians, told the Capital Chronicle in a written statement.

Aldo Solano Mendez, strategic partnerships manager of the Oregon Food Bank, indicated that the coalition hopes to sway lawmakers with compelling stories of those who in need.

They include residents from the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Palau and the Republic of Marshall. Under an agreement with the U.S., which carries out nuclear tests in Micronesia, so-called COPA citizens are allowed to work in the U.S. About 10,000 people from that region live in Oregon and would qualify for SNAP but don’t because of their residency status, Jackie Leung, executive director of the Micronesian Islander Community, said during the news conference.

She said the community includes people who work in a range of jobs, from caregivers to cashiers to employees at recycling plants, and that they’ve experienced high rates of hunger, especially since the pandemic hit.

Adelante Mujeres, a nonprofit that advocates for Latinas, is another organization behind the proposal. Petrona Dominguez Francisco, the group’s leadership and advocacy program coordinator, said many farmworkers have been excluded – even though they work to put food on people’s tables.

She said the high price of food limits their ability to buy healthy options, calling it “a heartbreaking situation.” She said many farmworkers are reluctant to ask for food help, in part because they fear it would affect their status.

The bill would need to be heard by the Human Services Committee and be voted on by March 17 to have a chance of being passed this session. Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin, the committee chair, warned supporters of another bill on Monday that the budget will be tight.

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.