Getting food stamps in Oregon is a SNAP

by Eric Shierman

Increases in social safety net spending are to be expected during a recession. It is then intuitive to assume the spike in food stamp use in 2010 that the US Census recently reported a couple weeks ago was caused by the economic downturn. Most states’ food stamp participation rate correlates with its economic performance, but not Oregon’s. Take a look at this map that colors states a darker shade of red proportional to the percentage of their population on food stamps.

food stamp percent of population

If all one knew about regional variations in the US economy came from this map, then one would think Oregon’s economy was devastated far worse by this past recession than Nevada when in fact the opposite is true. In 2010 Nevada saw the use of food stamps grow at the alarming rate of 48%! This was double Oregon’s growth rate in the same year, but brought them nowhere near Oregon’s food stamp dependency.

There were many states with far worse local economies than Oregon’s last year, but we led the nation in food stamp use at 18%. While our state economy has slightly improved in 2011, food stamp consumption continues to increase. We are on track to end the year at 20% meaning that 1/5th of our population eats at the taxpayer’s expense while only 1/10th of our state is unemployed.

To see just how much we deviate from the correlation between state economic performance and food stamp enrolment, let’s compare the percentage of each states’ population on food stamps with two economic metrics: unemployment and median household income.

food stamps and unemployment

food stamps and median household income

This data is rather shocking when seen for the first time, but Oregon has been providing free groceries to more than just poor families for quite some time. We were one of the first states to adopt a debit card like payment system, called the Oregon Trail Card, removing much of the stigma for receiving public assistance.

oregon trail card

Most states place some restrictions on the ability of young single people from applying for food stamps. Not Oregon, much to this local college student blogger’s delight. ( With the ability to spread the word via social media, you would be surprised how quickly the ubiquitous Oregon Trail Card began subsidizing snack food in our college dorms, and even 20 somethings living at home playing video games for a living. Money being fungible, it subsidizes a lot more than food.

I first became aware of this trend anecdotally when Portland State University’s cafeteria began accepting debit cards. When downtown I like to eat there, but was frustrated by how long it took them to get a card processor. When they finally did, the cashier explained to me that the school had to make the switch because so many students have been dropping the meal plans in favor of food stamps. The only way to retain their business was to allow students to pay with their Oregon Trail Cards. Hooking their students up with federal money as a form of consumer finance being such a core competency of most Universities these days, perhaps we ought not be surprised by this page from PSU’s website. (

Eric Shierman is a partner at Creative Destruction Investment Partners, writes for the Oregonian under the pen name “Portland Aristotle” on the MyOregon blog, and is the author of the forthcoming book: A Brief History of Political Cultural Change. His articles can be read at:

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Food Stamps | 226 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Ladywriter

    At least Oregon cares about me, the unemployed journalist who needs food stamps to eat. If I did not get all the free food I could eat from the state I would have to get a job. And guess what, I have tried to get a job and not a single person has wanted to hire me to write stories.
    I guess I just wasted four years of my life at the U of O getting this worthless degree.
    Now, if I can get an extension on my jobless benefits I will be in pretty good shape to continue the lifestyle to which I have grown accustomed.
    Thank you Oregon. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • 3H

      You eat food stamps?  That explains your inability to make sense.

  • Bob Clark

    This is one of the reasons what’s so galling about the OccupyPortlanders.  Multnomah County is a heavy user of food stamps at over 20% as of last year.  So, the idea this group is deserving of even more government handouts and special treatment is a big freakin sham.  Instead, Multnomah county and the city of Portland need to be put on a public spending diet as they’ve become obese and ungrateful on various government handouts.  Portlandia was only half spoofing when it called Portland, “the city where young people can still go to retire early.”

    • Sol668

      um urban portlanders support this state, not rural oregonians with their much lower wages, higher poverty rates, and higher unemployment

  • valley person

    So what is the problem Eric? Are most of these people getting food stamps in Oregon not eligible by law? If we do a better job than other states allowing people to get help with less bureaucracy to discourage them, isn’t that a good thing?

    As for students, the average debt on graduation is now $30,000. Would you have them go further into debt so they and their kids could eat while they are trying to better themselves?

    I mean….what exactly is your point with this post?

    • Bite It Loser Boy

      So tell us all why any student piling up debts for their education is entitled to food stamps?
         We do a better job? At what – giving the losers of society yet another crutch. Screw you and all the other progressive financial illiterates.

      • valley person

        Sure loser boy. Its because if their income is low enough, they are legally eligible by law.

        Oregon does a better job of letting people know food stamps are available, and a better job of processing claims.

        As for my financial literacy, we should compare notes on our net worth sometime soon over a beer. Lower net worth buys the first round.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    I live relatively near UO. The number of 20 something white guys I see using Oregon Trail to buy a Twinkie and a Pepsi is unreal. First of all its outrageous you can buy that sort of thing at taxpayer expense, second its absurd that convenience stores are allowed to accept food stamps at all, third it is inane that an able bodied 20 year old male can even get food stamps.

    One good place to start would be to stop advertising sign up for this nonsense.

    If you are too stupid to get a job, then you go on welfare.

    If you are too stupid to get on welfare then maybe Darwin should take over and you should just die.

    Sorry, but I said it. Below some threshold level I am perfectly willing to let able bodied people who are either too stupid, or too insufficiently inclined, to support themselves drop dead on the spot.

    Likewise if you get caught abusing food stamps.

    Get caught water dumping? Sorry, you are off food stamps for life and if you have kids they are removed from you under the guise of protecting their welfare but in reality because you are so damn stupid you aren’t ever going to raise a doctor or even a dental hygienist and this is as good an excuse as any to get you out of the parent business.

    Thinking about letting a few more kids walk out from between your legs to continue the charm and sunshine your welfare family has blessed the earth with for three generations?

    Guess again honey – You want to be on welfare, fine, but we are going to pump you full of Norplant until your face breaks out. No Norplant, no money. Working people have to make financial decisions regarding having children or not, welcome to just a taste of it baby.

    Oh my god I am so heartless, asking those who take the most from society to actually live with just a sprinkling of the headaches those who pay for this stuff live with.


    Get caught doing crime? No problem. Restitution for your crime will be decucted from your welfare check until its paid for. Cant support your kids because your check got cut due to your crime? Woopie do, like I care. Last time I checked if someone with a job gets caught doing some crime, they usually get fired and no one worries about their kids.

    The bottom line is Oregon is ridiculously lax with this stuff. When you have 10% unemployment and 20% on food stamps that tells you that you either have a huge problem with unqualified recipients getting benefits, or a whole bunch of people who shouldn’t be having kids are breeding like bunnies.

    Either is really easy to fix. For fraud, you fire the state worker who approves the able bodied 20 something. For bunny breeders Norplant em and establish a fund for the inevitable dopes who start yammering on about some right to breed while on welfare, let them pay into it. If there is enough in the fund to support payments for extra litters, fine, we can abolish Norplant. If not then its back to no breed welfare.

    OK – Now that was a right and proper rant. Sorry, but I have never lived in a state where welfare abuse was so rampant – and I’m from NYC!

    • valley person

      More like a wrong and improper rant, but whatever floats your boat Rupert. 

      • Rupert in Springfield

        I dont think there is anything wrong and improper about anything I said, but you are entitled to your own opinion. I just wish I didnt have to pay for it, which I do.

        • valley person

          I know you don’t. Wishing death on poor people because you saw someone buy a twinkie is no big deal to you. That’s what makes you Rupert, and we all love you for it.

          And I guess I’ll expect to see your check in the mail. Thanks. 

          • Rupert in Springfield

            I never wished death on poor people. I wished death people who were either shockingly stupid or unwilling to work. I see nothing wrong with that as I am more of an evolutionist than a creationist.

            >And I guess I’ll expect to see your check in the mail.

            Not sure what you are talking about her but ok. What in the world would I be sending a check for?

            As always, you remain a complete mystery in your thinking process.

          • valley person

            I’m glad you clarified that you only wish death on stupid, lazy poor people. THat is so much better.

            You said you were paying for my opinions, so I expect a check.

  • guest

    Way to steal data from the New York Times without citing it.

    Also, how is there any sense in the statement, “Oregon has been providing free groceries to more than just poor families for quite some time.”?  You cannot receive food stamps if you make more than 185% of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that’s less than $41,348 a year.  I don’t think many people would argue that at that income, your family is poor.   Please don’t make the argument that there are no employed people who are not poor.

    • Marvin McConoughey

      Your statement “You cannot receive food stamps if you make more than 185% of the federal poverty level” is apparently based on the letter of the law.  Oregon may not be enforcing federal law very well, if at all.  The present administration is getting tough with state officials who enforce federal immigration law.  Chances are some food stamp applications are fraudulent.  I looked at the online application and it would be very easy to falsely file for food stamps.

  • Ripped Off!

    I am a senior on a fixed income who planned on retiring with the proceeds from the sale of my home which I have lived in 37 years, but my property was identified as Sensitive Lands, making it unsellable.  A state that steals property without compensation should be prepared to support those they steal from.

  • Really???

    Since a lot of students are out of state, Oregonians are footing the bill for non-Oregonians.  Parents should be helping their kids with food bills and students should get part time jobs to help pay for expenses.  I have a PSU student.  She mentioned the food stamp thing and I was astounded that this was possible.  I told her, “NO”.  Thank you very much but we will help you with food.  A parents responsibility shouldn’t stop when they graduated HS.  We paid for their food then and we should continue to pay after that while they are dependents.  Now if the family is on food stamps, then that is a different story or if the student is not a dependent, again, different story.  I know of kids taking advantage of this  and it is funny how they seem to have enough money for alcohol and other things……..  

    • valley person

      Food stamps are paid for by the Feds, not state taxpayers. We only do the administration. If a student is living in Oregon, then they are an Oregonian for the time they are living here.

      Some students don’t have parents, or parents who have any money. Many or most have part time jobs. The cost of tuition, rent, books and fees is upwards of $20,000 a year today, and there are few part time jobs that can cover more than 1/2 that amount.

      Many students are adults with kids of their own who are simply trying to better themselves. 

      • Honest Problem Solver

        We pay the overcompensated with very expensive benefits for Or. Gov’t employees to administer. Who pays Fed taxes to support program?

        Yes even supposedly “good for the economy” Illegal Aliens (over 300,000 here in Or.) and their large families/anchor babies are getting food stamps!

        This is why Democrats here will not pass E-Verify…illegals leave = less “needy” people = less Gov’t/SEIU jobs = less campaign cash for Dem’s.

        • Rupert in Springfield

          You know, I gotta tell you, I do see people who could be illegal use food stamps from time to time. However most of the time I see people in the check out line, who one could suppose are illegal, they pay cash.

          If I see a family at Winco (yep, thats where I shop, lots and lots of illegals there) with a couple of kids that is likely illegal I notice two things:

          First of all, their kids are way better behaved than most of the trailer trash.

          Second of all they pay cash, rarely, and I mean really rarely, do I see an OT card come out.

          If I see some dopey 20 somethings with a kid in the stroller, ten frozen pizzas, a box of twinkies and Daddy carrying his skateboard under his arm do you know what comes next more often than not?

          I see that OT card come whipping out faster than a six gun at the OK corral.

          I’m not a big fan of illegal aliens, but I really think the biggest abusers of OT are idiots who should barely be given a drivers license much less be popping out babies like McNuggets out of a deep fryer.

          No Birth Control – No Food Stamps.

          You want an Oregon Trail Card? You get a Norplant tattoo.

          Call me Hitler but no breeding rights while on welfare.

          • valley person

            How does it feel to have turned into Archie Bunker? 

          • Rupert in Springfield

            Actually with your sporadic racist comments on this blog I dubbed you the blog Archie Bunker several years ago. Nice try though!

          • valley person

            Given your recent rants, you have earned the title, so dub yourself. You don’t see me claiming I can spot an “illegal” in a grocery store.

          • None

            “You know, I gotta tell you, I do see people who could be illegal use food stamps from time to time.”

            And how can you tell that they “could be illegal”? Dark skin?

      • Really???

        Yes, I don’t have any problem with legitimate food stamp cases. People who are independent of their parents, have no parents, or have parents who are not middle class or above.  I believe I stated that.  

        Tuition is not 20,000.  It is closer to 8,000 now.  It is the food and dorming that costs extra which brings you to your 20,000.00.  I know this first hand since I have a kid at PSU.  So, for instance, my kid works part time and pays for rent, food, books, and car.  All on ~9,000.00 per year. (Alot cheaper than paying the 12,000.00 the college wants you to pay and a (used)car is almost paid off.)  Since they are my dependent (meaning I use them as a tax write-off) I help supplement food and car insurance.  As a dependent, they should not qualify for food stamps.  There are many kids who are dependents who have parents who can afford to help pay for the students food.   Those  students should not be on food stamps.  

        My student will graduate debt free because I paid tuition and they worked part time and paid for everything else plus will own a car, furniture etc. to get them started after college.

        So, if a student is a dependent, they should be getting help from their parents unless the family is low income or in need of assistance.  They should not be on food stamps.  

        • valley person

          Good for you and yours, but I’m not sure you can generalize your situation to everyone else. I teach part time at PSU, and few if any of my students live with their parents. I’ve had veterans, married with kids, single moms, single dads, former wall streeters who got laid off in the crash, 2nd career grandparents, and people who work full time and study part time. PSU doesn’t have programs for every student by the way. And frankly, its not in the top tier of colleges and universities, so does not work for everyone.

          Also, a student could still be a “dependent” yet also be in need of help. After all, a lot of households are pretty poor, and its as possible to be a poor dependent as a middle class one.
          Using the generic term “student” as a reason for not needing food stamps is misleading at best, deliberately dishonest at worst.  I hate to see “student” become the new “welfare queen.” Students have enough on their plates. 

          • Really???

            You didn’t read my response very well.  I said if they are poor and truly and need that is definitely fine.  

            I am referring to middle class and above using food stamps.  My student would actually qualify and I think that is a waste of taxpayers $$ because she doesn’t need to be on food stamps.  

            I want people to have this resource and if it is abused it only hurts those who really need it.

          • valley person

            OK. I agree with what you just said.

  • Brandon

    Food stamp money benefits recipients and food corporations at the expense of taxpayers. Those are facts, not judgements.

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