|Times are tough, but I am optimistic that help is on the way, that light will follow darkness and that our collective efforts do and will make a difference. It is with that spirit that I write today.
I know you saw the news this week that Oregon's November unemployment rate rose to 8.1 percent, the highest in rate in five years. Not surprisingly, we announced a correlating increase in the need for food stamps and cash assistance and both are up about 15 percent since November 2007.
That's a reality that's being shared coast to coast in this country as states grapple with what to do when businesses start to lay off workers and revenues go down at the same time demand for services goes up.
This week I joined my fellow health and human services directors in the American Public Human Services Association in sending a letter to President-elect Obama's transition team. Our letter laid out immediate actions that can be taken in the first 30 days of the new administration that will both help individuals and provide a rapid injection of dollars into our communities.
To be most helpful to Oregonians and Oregon's economy, an initial federal stimulus package should contain three things. First, increase or extend federal dollars for direct vital services such as Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance and foster care and adoption assistance. Second, provide the funds for states to administer those services adequately so that understaffing doesn't cause unnecessary benefit delays. And third, eliminate the piles of red tape that have been added to programs by the feds over the past eight years that slow our ability to get help to those most in need.
It is well known that increasing benefits helps people in need. What's talked about less is how these benefit dollars multiply in our communities and have an immediate effect on local economies. Take Medicaid - when the top cause of personal bankruptcy is medical debt, it's clear that Medicaid helps Oregon families. But Medicaid dollars also pay for nurses, doctors, x-ray technicians and other health professionals. These health care workers in turn purchase goods and services within their communities. Families USA has estimated that every additional $1 million spent on Medicaid in Oregon generates $3.2 million in business activity, 29 jobs, and $1.1 million in salaries and wages. Clearly, federal Medicaid dollars are an important part of every community in Oregon.
And look at the economic impact of food stamps. In November, more than a half a million people - one in seven Oregonians - used the federally funded food stamps to supplement their food budget. The other part of the story is the impact those food stamp dollars have on the local community. For every dollar of food stamps spent, almost two dollars of total economic activity occurs within the local community. That's not too surprising when you consider that food stamp dollars go into the local grocery store and are used to pay workers and to purchase goods and services.
So when the new administration and Congress are looking at where to invest dollars to have the fastest impact, I'd argue that no area is more "shovel ready" than health and human services. The impact of those stimulus dollars is real, measurable, and most importantly, it is immediate.
Ever since Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933 during the Great Depression and famously passed landmark legislation to get the country back on track within the first hundred days, subsequent presidents have been measured by what they accomplish in a similar timeline. Oregonians and our local economies don't have 100 days to wait.