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Oregon receives tens of thousands new food assistance applications

With a record 20.5 million American jobless in April, more Oregonians are applying for SNAP benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

PORTLAND, Ore. — More Oregonians are applying for benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ivonne Lopez is deputy director of the Self Sufficiency Programs under the Oregon Department of Human Services. She has worked to help people connect with SNAP and other assistance programs for 26 years.

"It's been an increase in requests for all those benefits, so [we're] trying to balance all those priorities at the same time," Lopez said.

She said Oregon SNAP applications typically fluctuate up and down by 400 to 500. However, in March, Lopez said the program saw about 12,000 new applications.

"Then close to 37,000 in the month of April," she said.

Hundreds of staff in her department are working from home and in offices to review all those applications.

"Our goal in self-sufficiency has always been to serve Oregonians either the same day they apply or the next day," Lopez explained.

She said to meet growing demand, federal waivers allow the process to move faster. One waiver lets people who are already in the system renew their benefits automatically during the COVID-19 economic crisis. Another waives a required interview if an applicant can't easily be reached.

According to Lopez, about 360,000 Oregon households use these benefits.

Data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priority show that comes out to about 599,000 Oregonians—about one in seven people.

"The majority of people are taxpayers themselves who are working," Lopez said. "We never know when people in different sectors might need our services, so we need to be available to provide our services to any Oregonian without that stigma."

She noted some of the stigma may come from misconception about what SNAP benefits pay for.

"It's not intended to cover the entire food budget of a family, but to supplement it," Lopez said.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports average SNAP benefits for Oregonians are about $133 per month, or $1.35 per person per meal.

To qualify, Oregonians must meet certain income limits based on the number of people in the household.

People are encouraged to apply online to reduce contact, but in-person office visits are available to people who can't apply online.

Lopez reminds everyone the system is there for a purpose.

"There should never be a time they feel the stigma should stop them from providing the needs for their families."

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