|Thanks to our six great division administrators for doing such a great job filling in for me over the past month and a half. I'm now back writing this message and can think of no better way to mark this return than to celebrate a great success.
Three weeks ago DHS received national recognition and a $1.75 million bonus award for exceptional administration of the Food Stamp program, delivered in person by USDA Under Secretary Nancy Johner.
Addressing the Food Stamp Summit.
The award was given to DHS for achieving the greatest improvement in the nation in increasing the accuracy rate for determining eligibility for food stamp benefits. The higher the rate, the closer we are to ensuring that everyone who is eligible is getting the assistance they need. As Under Secretary Johner said when she presented the award, "Today we celebrate your hard work in getting it right for the citizens of Oregon."
This clearly exemplifies what it means to be a leading health and human services agency, and the positive difference that we can make in people's lives.
That hard work was the combined effort of many individuals throughout DHS and within our partner organizations. DHS human services specialists in particular, as well as case managers, quality control staff and program analysts behind the scenes, all played key roles. DHS staff also worked with community partners including Area Agencies on Aging, the Oregon Food Bank, the Oregon Hunger Relief Task Force, Oregon tribes and other groups, reaching out to eligible individuals to ensure they knew about the program, applied for benefits and were enrolled. These important outreach and enrollment efforts made a positive difference in the lives of many vulnerable Oregonians, and I want to personally thank everyone involved for their ongoing dedication to this meaningful work.
USDA Under Secretary Nancy Johner (front row, far left) presents bonus award check to Bruce Goldberg and DHS staff members at the Salem Accuracy Summit, July 29, 2008.
The bonus money is particularly welcome right now because it allows us to further strengthen the food stamp program just as the need for food stamps is rising and the agency's budget is tightening. We have seen an increase of about 9 percent in the number of food stamp recipients during the past year, and we can expect that trend to continue. Difficult economic times mean more people need our services. One in eight Oregonians now receives food stamp benefits.
Recent increases in the price of food, fuel and other basic expenses are hitting people with limited and fixed incomes particularly hard. Those same costs and the increasing caseloads also are impacting DHS's budget - and impacting our own staff.
An increased need for assistance means the numbers of caseloads go up throughout the agency, work gets harder and hours get longer. I am continually impressed by the dedication of our staff to not only meet the growing need for services, but also to reach out to find and enroll even more eligible individuals and families. Thank you. Your efforts are so valuable.
There still are thousands of Oregonians who are not enrolled because they don't know about food stamps or don't know they are eligible. Our ongoing challenge is to help them learn about and access the program, and to leverage those benefits as effectively as possible for a diet that promotes long-term good health.
When times are tight, Oregonians count on DHS more than ever. And this bonus award is evidence that we are meeting that responsibility. It also serves as a wonderful example of what it means to be a leading health and human services agency. The more efficient and effective we are at doing our jobs, the better the service we can provide our state's residents.
As various programs throughout the department begin to implement Transformation initiatives in the weeks and months ahead, I plan to highlight some of those improvements in future letters. In the meantime, please know that your hard work is recognized and very much appreciated.