|Monday brought news that stopped many people cold in one month's time Oregon's unemployment rate jumped nearly an entire point up to 10.8 percent, about double what it was one year ago.
Last month, Oregon lost 21,700 jobs.
During that same time, demand for food stamps increased by 10,000 households, an increase of 21 percent over February 2008. Food stamps and other economic assistance not only help people who have hit a rough spot due to job loss or other reasons, but are an immediate stimulus into local economies.
About $60.4 million in federal food stamp benefit dollars flowed into Oregon communities in February alone, and that amount is slated to increase.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the federal stimulus package, will increase the amount of food stamp benefits by approximately 13 percent starting April 1, 2009. This boost will be a help to the Oregonians who count on food stamps to fill the gaps in their food budget.
Jamie Hoschouer, a food stamp eligibility worker with DHS in Roseburg, talks to a client who came in to get help Monday. Photo by The News-Review
I am very proud of our frontline workers who are meeting the challenges of increased demand for services in our branches. The new intake process that was developed as part of the DHS Transformation Initiative is working to speed the process and provide same-day service, and people are beginning to notice. Over the past week two newspapers, The Oregonian and the Roseburg News-Review, spent time in local branches in North Clackamas and Roseburg to check in.
In Roseburg, the reporter showed the power of teamwork:
"Many people in the local office pitched in to help process the backlog of cases that had built up, from managers to case workers who usually handle Temporary Aid to Needy Families." Click here for the entire story of what a great job this branch is doing in Douglas County, where 20 percent of the population is on food stamps.
And the Oregonian reporter who spent the day in our North Clackamas Branch shadowed one new client, whose husband lost his job while she is on maternity leave. They have done all they can to get by but now need temporary help to feed their new family until her maternity leave ends.
It's a wonderful story of the importance of the work we do and it also shows the immediate impact these dollars have on local economies: within a few hours of receiving her card, this client was in her local supermarket.
For many communities, food stamps are a significant portion of the local economy. Overall, one in seven Oregonians count on food stamps and the number is much higher in counties rocked by higher unemployment.
Every dollar in food stamps generates $1.73 in economic activity, the highest payoff of any federal spending. This makes sense because for the grocer, a dollar in food stamps is the same as any dollar. Each dollar pays salaries, buys stock and funds the services needed to keep the store going.
And each dollar helps feed a person who would otherwise go hungry.
This is how we help people and our local communities, which I think is some good news in a time of difficulty.