In Short

Proposal to create state-funded food assistance program for undocumented immigrants advances

By: - April 5, 2023 6:21 pm

Rep. Wlnsvey Campos, D-Aloha, is one of the chief sponsors behind a bill to provide monthly cash assistance for food to undocumented immigrants. (Connor Radnovich/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

A proposal to provide food assistance to thousands of people who don’t qualify for federal benefits made the leap from a state Senate committee to legislative budget writers this week.

Senate Bill 610 would create a state-funded program under the Department of Human Services that mirrors the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for the estimated 62,000 undocumented immigrants in Oregon who are excluded from SNAP. 

The bill would also cover residents from Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau. Under the Compact of Free Association, or COFA treaty, they can live, work and travel to the U.S. without a visa but are excluded from federal benefits. Oregon is home to the third largest population of COFA citizens in the U.S. outside Hawaii – about 4,300 people.

The meeting was discussed at the end of February in the Senate Committee on Human Services. Dozens of people testified in support of the proposal, which has the backing of more than 100 nonprofit and advocacy organizations. The bill is among the priorities announced recently by the Legislature’s 17-member Black, Indigenous and People of Color Caucus.

The bill won bipartisan support in the committee vote this week, with the three Democratic members – chair Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin of Corvallis, Sen. Floyd Prozanski of Springfield and Sen. James Manning Jr. of Eugene – in favor along with Sen. Suzanne Weber, R-Tillamook. The other Republican on the committee, Sen. Art Robinson of Cave Junction, voted “no.”

A coalition backing the proposal hailed the vote, as did one of the bill’s chief sponsors, Sen. Wlnsvey Campos, D-Aloha, who has spoken repeatedly in support of the bill. Her family was on food stamps when she was a child and she remembers being hungry and going to food banks. 

 “The communities that we’re talking about in this bill are people that are part of the economic engine of this country — they pay taxes, are hard-working and are looking for opportunities,” she said in a statement. “This bill is one of our most significant opportunities this session to make concrete, immediate improvements to the lives of vulnerable Oregonians.”

The proposal has been added to the stack of proposals facing the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which decides what bills will be funded. With more than $400 million tied up in a $200 million homeless and housing proposal signed by Gov. Tina Kotek and a $210 million semiconductor package, which is also expected to pass, the Legislature does not have enough to fund all of the requests, Senate President Robert Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, said this week.

The legislative office has yet to determine how much the bill would cost.

CORRECTION: Sen. Art Robinson of Cave Junction was not identified as such and was misidentified as a representative in an earlier version of this story.


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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.