Food, financial-aid figures depict slow recovery

Despite some signs the recession might be easing, the number of Rogue Valley residents receiving food stamps and cash assistance continued to rise in June.

More than 58,000 people in Jackson and Josephine counties received food stamps in June — about one in five. Statewide, the number of food stamp recipients climbed to nearly 615,000, or about one in every six Oregonians.

Caseload figures released by the state Department of Human Services Wednesday indicated demand for food stamps rose 27.3 percent in Jackson and Josephine counties compared with June 2008.

The number of families in the two-county region who qualify for cash assistance increased 24.7 percent over June 2008, from 1,721 to 2,146.

Statewide, families in the program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, increased 26.5 percent from a year ago, to 24,982.

The growing demand "just shows how much people are counting on this support," Patty Wentz, a DHS spokeswoman, said.

Unemployment figures for June showed a slight decline in the number of people out of work in Southern Oregon. The seasonally adjusted rate for June in Jackson County was 13.7 percent, down from 14 percent in May, but still nearly double the 7.3 percent rate in June 2008. In Josephine County, the seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 15.3 percent, down from 15.6 percent in May. Statewide, the unemployment rate held steady in May and June at 12.2 percent.

Wentz said the TANF program provides support for very-low-income families. A family of four must earn less than $795 per month to qualify, which is just 43 percent of the federal poverty limit. Once qualified, a family of four could receive $647 per month, but the actual amount varies depending on income and family size.

Wentz stressed that the program is only for people with children, and she noted that the biggest increase statewide came in two-parent families.

"Things are really hard for people," she said.

She said food stamps alone rarely provide enough money to feed a family, and needy people also depend on support from local social service agencies and food banks.

"You can't live on just what you get from the state," she said, "and you can't live on just what you get from the food banks. You have to cobble all this together, and that can be a full-time job."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or

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