Oregon Food Bank Gets $7.5 Million From the State Legislature After Eliminating Covid Food Aid

Hundreds of thousands of Oregonians are dealing with dwindling federal food assistance, so the legislature will shortly transfer $7.5 million to the Oregon Food Bank.

On Thursday(March 30,2023), the state Senate voted 22-7 to pass House Bill 5045, a budget rebalancing legislation that included more funding for public defense, hospital staffing, rebuilding weather-damaged roads, and $7.5 million for the Oregon Food Bank. Tina Kotek, the governor, has been pushing for more money to go to the food bank, and she is widely likely to sign the bill into law.

That corresponds with a severe reduction in government food assistance. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program serves over 720,000 people in Oregon. As the COVID epidemic arrived in the spring of 2020, the federal government boosted monthly SNAP payments, but that rise was only temporary.

As food costs in Oregon are far higher than before the epidemic, the average monthly food benefit per family has dropped from $450 to $270.

The Oregon Food Bank’s spokesman, Jason Stephany, said via email that there had been a dramatic increase in demand for food at the many free food markets, pantries, meal locations, and delivery programs with which the organization collaborates in recent weeks.

“We’re only a few weeks into this federal cut to families’ grocery budgets, yet we’re already seeing new records set for Oregonians served in a single day at area food assistance sites,” he said.

The increased funds will allow the charity to purchase food until the end of June, as previously stated by CEO Susannah Morgan to the Capital Chronicle. By then, the food bank hopes to have received additional funding from the federal government.

This November, Congress authorized the Department of Agriculture to spend $2 billion on American-grown food for food banks and school lunch programs. In a separate development this week, the state Department of Human Services said it would increase food assistance for low-income families with small children by $170 million.

Republican Opposition

Republicans in the Senate and the House were skeptical of providing financing for the food bank, but on March 20, the measure passed with just Republican opposition (38-19).

During the House debate, Republican Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis of Albany argued that the Oregon Food Bank was wrong to voice its opposition to the Republican walkout in 2020 over climate change legislation, as well as its support for the 2022 law mandating overtime pay for agricultural workers and the pending measure to guarantee access to abortions and other reproductive care.

“If their focus were simply feeding Oregonians, I would not have a problem with the $7.5 million allocation to this organization,” Boshart Davis said. “But after the past years of watching this organization engage in very partisan activities, I do not have faith in providing millions of state dollars to a politically active organization.”

On Thursday, Republican senator Daniel Bonham from The Dalles gave an almost similar statement, adding that he plans to introduce legislation to audit the Oregon Food Bank to ensure that no state cash it has received has been utilized for political activities.

Oregon Food Bank Gets $7.5 Million

Senator Elizabeth Steiner (D-Portland) countered that the budget legislation bars the Oregon Food Bank from using money on anything other than purchasing food. Steiner is the Senate co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee.

“The money for the food bank is statutorily dedicated for food,” she said. “It cannot be used for anything else. The bill says explicitly it is for food purchases only.”

Stephany said that the food bank accounts for every penny it spends and that just distributing food isn’t enough to tackle the roots of hunger and poverty.

“We need policies and investments that improve access to health care and housing statewide, especially in under-resourced small towns and rural and remote areas,” he said. “Since our founding, Oregon Food Bank has supported important legislation to ensure everyone in Oregon has access to the resources we need to thrive — regardless of race, gender, religion or immigration status.”

The bill allocates $70 million to the DOT’s maintenance budget to cover the cost of more extensive repairs to state roadways that were needed after severe weather. However, the DOT anticipates receiving reimbursement for most of these costs from the Federal Highway Administration.

In addition, $25 million is allocated to the Oregon Health Authority to assist in filling critical positions in state hospitals. The health authority has funded nursing contracts and other short-term medical professionals throughout the epidemic.

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In addition, the legislation allotted $1.1 million for public attorneys to use in defending clients whose verdicts were reached by a minority of the jury. In December, an earlier judgment by the Oregon Supreme Court made the U.S.

At least 225 persons appeal their convictions because of the SupremCourt’s order mandating unanimous jury findings in major criminal cases. Legislative scholars estimate that up to two thousand such situations may arise.

Due to a severe lack of public defenders, hundreds of individuals have been unjustly denied their constitutional right to be represented by counsel, prompting lawmakers to allocate millions more to public defense in the next biennial budget.

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