PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The share of Oregonians depending on food stamps leads the nation.

New Census data from a 2010 survey show that nearly 18 percent of the state's residents used food stamps at some time in the previous 12 months, The Oregonian newspaper reported (http://bit.ly/uMNAmt).

In a similar survey in 2009, six other states had rates equal to or higher than Oregon's for use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as the food stamp program now is known.

"This is one of those leadership positions I don't think anyone wanted to see," said Gene Evans, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Human Services. "The numbers are huge in Oregon. I think everybody knows somebody who is either working fewer hours or working fewer days or lost their job. There are lots of families depending on SNAP to keep their kids fed."

Oregon Food Bank spokeswoman Jean Kempe-Ware said the numbers could also reflect that efforts to get eligible people to sign up are working.

The surge in food stamp use appears to have carried over to this year. A total of 788,799 Oregonians have received food stamps this year, a 7 percent increase from 2010 and a 60 percent increase from July 2008.

"The change I see is that when people come here, they are more desperate, they have exhausted all of their resources, and they don't know what they are going to do," said Jean DeMaster, who heads the nonprofit social services agency Human Solutions. "It's that kind of desperation that I am seeing much more often than I used to."

The food stamp numbers jibe with other statistics showing a state suffering some of the worst effects of the Great Recession and the weak recovery.

The charity Feeding America this year named Oregon the first in the nation for childhood hunger.

From 2007 to 2010, 120,000 additional Oregonians fell below the poverty line, according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy, with 15.8 percent of the state's residents counted among the poor.

___

Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

Copyright 2011 The AP.

Recommended for you