Congress bickers while more Oregonians go hungry

Just in time for the America's annual overindulgence around the Thanksgiving table comes the news that Oregon ranks third highest in the country for the percentage of households with very low food security. And members of Congress, who could easily have prevented more Americans from falling into this category next week, were more interested in scoring political points than dealing with the problem.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last week that only Maine and Alabama had higher proportions of households in the "very low" category than Oregon. Very low security means one or more members of each household had their food intake reduced or their eating patterns disrupted because the household lacked money and other resources for food. Half a million Oregonians live in these households.

When "low food security" households are factored in, the state fares somewhat better: Sixteen other states had higher percentages of households in the two combined categories. The larger category includes households that were food insecure at for at least some time during the year.

Not surprisingly, the numbers have risen in the past two years, as more Oregonians lost jobs and have been unable to find new work. Nationwide, five job seekers compete for every one opening. In Jackson County, the unemployment rate remains above 13 percent, virtually unchanged from a year ago and far above the national rate of 9.6 percent.

One simple way to prevent more people from sliding into food insecurity is to extend benefit payments to the long-term unemployed, whose eligibility will expire beginning at the end of this month.

But Congress failed to do that when Republicans in the House killed a three-month extension last week. Their rationale was that the $12 billion cost should be made up with spending reductions elsewhere in the budget rather than increasing the deficit.

This is the same party that insists on extending the Bush-era tax cuts for American households with more than $250,000 in taxable income, boosting the deficit by nearly $700 billion over the next decade.

The Democrats are not blameless in this either. Their lame-duck leadership in the House brought the jobless extension up for a vote under fast-track rules requiring a two-thirds majority to pass it with limited debate. When it predictably failed — although more members voted yes than no — Democrats howled that Republicans cared more about the rich than about keeping food on the tables of the struggling unemployed.

Both parties say they want to see the benefits extended and predict a compromise will be reached, but not until December at the earliest. On Nov. 30, 800,000 workers will lose their benefits and 2 million will lose them by the end of the year.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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