Oregon Food Bank today joined U.S. Senator Ron Wyden in a call for Congress to pass urgent relief for families and communities hard-hit by the pandemic and its economic fallout. The following remarks were delivered by Susannah Morgan, CEO of Oregon Food Bank, on behalf of the one-in-five Oregonians facing income loss and food insecurity in the wake of COVID-19.
“This is a critical moment for Oregon and our nation. Confirmed cases of COVID-19 are spiking in Oregon, Washington and around the country. The death toll continues to rise. And one-in-five Oregonians are out of work in the pandemic’s wake.
“It breaks my heart to report that we’ve seen food insecurity double in Oregon since March. Requests for emergency food assistance have risen dramatically across our 1,400 pantries and meal sites. Many sites have served as many community members in a month as they usually see in an entire year. And there is no end in sight.
“Our highest priority — always and right now especially — must be to care for one another. On behalf of the entire Oregon Food Bank Network, I call on Congress to take immediate action to address the greatest hunger crisis of my lifetime. Now is the time for bold leadership to ensure all Oregonians can put food on the table — to pass a comprehensive relief package that will ensure our communities can emerge stronger on the other side of this pandemic.
“First, we must extend Unemployment Insurance. This should be a no-brainer. Until the pandemic is conquered and our economy recovers, families will need this critical help to put food on the table. Equally important is to protect and strengthen SNAP — formerly known as ‘food stamps’. Our neighbors are facing double jeopardy – no income from jobs AND rising food prices. This means that current SNAP benefits simply aren’t enough to get families through the month. Congress can fix this by increasing SNAP food benefits by 15% and extending the emergency measures that are set to expire soon.
“We also need to extend the Pandemic EBT program, which provides funds for food for families whose kids would have received free or reduced priced meals at school. As a mom of two school-aged kids myself, I can tell you from personal experience that if kids don’t eat, they can’t learn — and disruptions in school patterns are already making education really challenging.
“It is vital that Congress stop excluding Oregonians from these and other safety net initiatives. Many of our neighbors have been excluded from prior aid packages — immigrants and refugees, many of whom are essential to our food system, have been cut out. In the middle of a pandemic, everyone should be able to access food or healthcare assistance without fear. Including all taxpayers and halting the ‘Public Charge’ rule are important first steps, and elected leaders can go even further by establishing an Emergency Assistance Fund to ensure states can provide support for those who can’t otherwise access our safety net.
“Oregonians need this help, and we need it now. This is particularly true for our neighbors long stalked by poverty and now disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 — our neighbors who are Black, Latinx, Indigenous and other people of color. I know that my friend, Senator Ron Wyden, understands this — he has long been a champion of policies that fight hunger and its root causes. But we need the rest of Congress to stand with Senator Wyden. Hunger’s reach is widening and deepening with each passing day. Our communities cannot wait another day for relief.
“Thank you, Senator Wyden, for being here today. And thank to our other guests, Karlee Hudgens, and Lloyd Jones, who will share about the realities of this pandemic for Oregon’s families. Karlee and Lloyd, we are immensely grateful you have joined us today to speak truth to power.