|Yesterday I joined Erinn Kelley-Siel, assistant director for the Children, Adults and Families Division at a news conference to release the spring caseload forecast that predicts the need for human services in the coming budget cycle. Also there were Ways and Means co-chairs, Sen. Margaret Carter and Rep. Peter Buckley.
Sen. Margaret Carter speaks at news conference Thursday; with her are Erinn Kelley-Siel, Dr. Goldberg, Rep. Peter Buckley.
The forecast laid out in stark detail how economic factors affect the work we do. Our analysts calculated that the global recession will continue to drive even more Oregonians to seek state benefits in the coming years.
The most dramatic increases in the 2009-2011 biennium will continue to be services that are most sensitive to economic downturns, such as food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Oregon Health Plan.
Here are the most significant increases:
- A 30.2 percent expected increase in the number of people needing food stamps up to a high of more than 671,000 Oregonians.
- The number of families who will qualify for temporary cash assistance is predicted to increase by 24 percent up to nearly 26,000 families.
- The number of Oregonians eligible for health care through the Oregon Health Plan is expected to increase 23 percent to a high of 565,500.
These are staggering numbers, especially when you consider that the demand for food stamps and cash assistance has already hit record levels. You can see the report here: www.oregon.gov/DHS/data/forecasts/2009/spring_09_01.pdf.
At the same time, I was encouraged by what Sen. Carter and Rep. Buckley said at the news conference as they pointed out that the DHS forecast highlights the difficult task before them - protecting basic services at a time when funding for the programs on which they depend is shrinking.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again," said Sen. Carter. "We cannot balance the budget on the backs of Oregon's most vulnerable."
"Our challenge as we work our way through this budget is to find a balanced approach that helps Oregonians who need it most," said Rep. Buckley.
Erinn Kelley-Siel also talked to the media about the pressures caused by the increasing caseloads, the dedication of the field staff in meeting increased demand and the need for additional staff.
"Our staff are literally on the front lines of this economic downturn. They have been working very hard to ensure that Oregonians have the help they need and I want to take a moment to thank them for rising to the challenge," she said. "We know when families are desperate they cannot afford to wait."
I couldn't agree more and as Erinn points out, this economic crisis is about people, not statistics.
And as the forecast makes clear, more people than ever will need the basic health and economic supports that help protect families from hunger, homelessness or worse. We will work very closely with the Governor and the Legislature to ensure that we have the resources to get the job done.