In Short

Government food benefits go up but net increase not so much

By: - October 5, 2021 4:40 am
root vegetables

Oregon specializes in specialty crops and has thousands of small family farms, many of whom sell their produce at farmers markets. (Lynne Terry/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Low-income families in Oregon will be able to afford slightly more groceries this month.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture boosted its food assistance on Oct. 1  after determining that monthly payments fell woefully short, putting a healthy diet out of reach for recipients.

In Oregon, a household of four receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will get $835 a month, up $155. But the net effect on the budget won’t be that much. Recipients had received $784 a month under the temporary pandemic relief that ended Sept. 30.

In Oregon, about 680,000 people, or one in six, receive SNAP benefits.

Programs in Oregon like Double Up Food Bucks help households stretch their dollars by $20 a day when they shop at participating farmers markets and grocery stores.

“Every penny counts when you are facing hunger and food insecurity and so it can make a significant difference at the end of the day,” said Jake Sunderland, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Human Services. The department administers the program in Oregon but the dollars come from the federal government.

Recipients can make up to $49,000 a year for a family of four in Oregon, up to 180% of the federal poverty level, and still qualify for the government help.

Originally called food stamps, the food program was adopted in 1975, with benefits set according to the Thrifty Food Plan. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program, updated payments in 1983, 1999 and 2006 based on inflation, but it didn’t verify whether benefits were enough for a family to eat a healthy diet, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington D.C. 

In 2018, federal legislation directed the agriculture department to revise the benefits based on the price of nutritional food. As a result, the plan now includes a mix of fresh fruit, vegetables, lean meat and seafood, the center said.

“Until this latest revision, the (Thrifty Food Plan) grew more out of sync with what households really eat, essentially assuming consumption of large amounts of certain foods, like dried beans and milk, and lesser variety and amounts of other healthy foods,” the center said in a statement.

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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.