|Sometimes the numbers can seem staggering. But they also tell an important story about how government matters in the lives of Oregonians.
New figures released this month show that 13 percent of Oregonians -- and 17.5 percent of Oregon children -- live in poverty. And in September, more than 635,000 Oregonians needed Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (the new name for the food stamps program) to feed their families. That's one in six people or about the same number of people who live in Marion and Lane counties combined.
According to spring caseload predictions, those figures will keep going up. SNAP demand is predicted to increase by at least another 36,000 people before the economic downturn ends.
Unemployment, poverty and hunger rates are at higher levels than at any time many of us can remember. To help protect their families, Oregonians continue to need basic health care and economic assistance at greater levels than ever before.
Food stamps aren't the only critical support we provide nor the only service for which demand is increasing. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families need is forecast to increase 24 percent. The Oregon Health Plan need is forecast to increase 23 percent, for a total of 565,500 Oregonians.
Forty percent of Oregon mothers have income low enough that they qualify for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program so that they can get needed nutrition for themselves and their babies.
I think about these numbers when I hear people say that they don't want government involved in their lives. I think about these numbers and others -- the 55,000 jobs mostly in the private sector that are dependent on government spending through DHS. I think about the mental health, addictions treatment, care for seniors and people with disabilities, vocational rehabilitation, foster care, job assistance and numerous other ways we help make the lives of Oregonians better. I think about it as our Public Health Division works to make sure that there will be enough H1N1 influenza vaccine in the right places and at the right time.
I know that government matters -- that we touch the lives of every Oregonian every single day. And that is why it is so important that we do our jobs well.
This week we got confirmation that not only are we doing our jobs well, but also that we are setting a standard.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that even in the face of unprecedented food stamp need, Oregon was one of the top states in ensuring that those who are eligible for benefits received them. This is the third year in a row we have received this honor and I am particularly proud that even in the face of the record-breaking demand we kept our high standards and made sure that people did not get turned away or slip through the cracks.
When he made the announcement, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, "The states we recognize today can serve as models for other states."
This is wonderful recognition because as I've often said, the work we do is so important we have to be the best. And today, our work is more important than ever.