Dozens of advocacy groups disappointed food assistance bill fails

A legislative proposal that died in a Ways and Means subcommittee would have helped 62,000 undocumented immigrants, including many who work long hours in fields

By: - June 14, 2023 4:09 pm

The Oregon Food Bank has experienced higher demand since federal emergency benefits stopped. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

This session, immigrants and dozens of advocacy groups had hoped to get a bill passed to provide food assistance for tens of thousands of Oregon residents currently excluded because of their immigration status.

Senate Bill 610 made it through the Senate Committee on Human Services in April on a bipartisan 4-1 vote, with only Republican Sen. Art Robinson of Cave Junction voting “no.” It moved to the Joint Ways and Means Committee where it died June 7, when the human resources subcommittee failed to bring it up for a vote.

The bill would have provided the equivalent of food assistance provided by the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Sponsored by 17 Democratic lawmakers, including chief sponsors Sens. Wlnsvey Campos of Aloha and James Manning Jr. of Eugene, it would have distributed monthly payments to people who don’t qualify for SNAP, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. An estimated 62,000 immigrants without residency documents in Oregon would have qualified, supporters said.

Currently, about 700,000 residents in Oregon receive SNAP benefits, averaging nearly $300 a month per household. Single residents can make up to $2,430 to qualify, with a limit of about $4,100 for a family of three.

About 125 advocacy groups had pushed the bill, dubbed Food for All Oregonians, saying that all Oregonians should have the right to have enough food. They released a statement Wednesday, decrying the bill’s fate.

“We are deeply disappointed that legislative leaders have determined Food for All Oregonians is not a priority – that critical legislation to address food insecurity will not advance this session,” the statement said. “Oregon has the resources to make Food for All Oregonians a reality; the state revenue forecast showed an additional $2 billion in available funding over the next two years – as well as an unprecedented $5.5 billion kicker.” 

They vowed to continue their efforts to pass a bill in a future legislative session. 

“The strength of our community will carry this fight forward. Six other states have already passed similar legislation to ensure food is available to all who need it, and Oregon must be next,” the statement said.

Among those the bill would have benefited are family members of Janet Orozco Ortiz, a 23-year-old health care worker in Tillamook County. Her father emigrated from Mexico to the U.S. about 25 years ago, later bringing his wife and two children. He first worked on farms in California, then they moved to Oregon, where her father toils on a dairy.

“He starts his day off at 3 in the morning, and his day ends around 6:30 p.m.,” Orozco Ortiz said. “He works six days in a row.”

Her mother works for a fast food outlet. Though they contribute to the economy, they’ve never had permanent residency and their two oldest children don’t either. Orozco Ortiz was born in the U.S. and is a citizen.

She remembers being hungry growing up and her mother struggling to prepare foreign food items they picked up at food banks. Sometimes her parents didn’t eat so the children could, she said.

“Food insecurity just makes it challenging to learn and thrive,” Orozco Ortiz said.

She said her mother developed diabetes and high blood pressure and blamed their diet. The bill would have helped her parents make ends meet, something they still struggle with, she said. 

She said she is very disappointed the bill didn’t pass. 

“I’m really surprised that legislators didn’t think that food was a priority. We all have to feed ourselves to survive,” she said. “It did bring up hopes for some people, and now we’re back to square one.”


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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.