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Oregon Estimates 35,000 Families Would Lose Food Stamps Under Federal Proposal

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Nearly 35,000 families in Oregon would lose access to food stamps under a new federal proposal to tighten eligibility requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, according to new estimates from the state’s Department of Human Services.

The state agency began its analysis soon after the Agriculture Department proposed “closing a loophole” that allowed families who were eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, another federal welfare program, to be automatically eligible for SNAP.  The Trump administration claimed the rule change would stop people with livable incomes from accessing food stamps and save the agriculture department billions of dollars. 

More than three million Americans would be cut from the food stamp program, according to federal estimates. A spokesperson for the state’s Department of Human Services says they estimate nearly 35,000 families will be affected in Oregon. 

If the rule is passed, it would immediately push anyone in Oregon earning between 130% and 185% of the federal poverty level — a range of about $33,500 to $47,600 for a family of four — off the assistance program.

More people could have their food stamps revoked as they come up for their regular recertification with SNAP, which takes into account recipients’ assets along with their income. Critics of the plan say this means people’s savings, retirement accounts, and cars could, for the first time, prohibit them from receiving food stamps.  

“It’s as bad as we feared,” says Jeff Kleen, a public policy advocate at Oregon Food Bank. 

“It could be they had an old boat backed behind the garage. That boat is not helping them make ends meet, but the value of that could push them above the resource test and they could lose their SNAP benefits.”

Oregon’s economy could take a hit, too. The department estimates retailers will lose out on $3 million per month if 35,000 families stop showing up at grocery stores with food stamps. According to the state’s analysis, these families are clustered heavily in Clackamas, Lane, Multnomah, Marion, and Washington counties.

In these areas, where both salaries and costs of living are higher than other parts of the state, there are many low-income residents who might rely on food stamps for meals while much of their salary goes toward housing, says Matt Newell-Ching, the public affairs director for Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon. He says the federal proposal would disrupt that setup. 

“The impact of this rule would be more people facing impossible choices between paying for rent and paying for food,” says Newell-Ching. 

The public can comment on the proposed changes until Sept. 23.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.