PORTLAND — More than 700,000 Oregonians received food stamps in the month of April, the highest numbers in the program's history, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Nearly one in five people in the state are relying on the government assistance to help buy food, compared to about one in eight nationally.
The state's high unemployment rate is driving the record enrollment, and state social service managers said they don't see signs of a decline.
"We are as busy or maybe even busier than we have been," says Kristina Wells, an operations manager at the Human Services office in Beaverton told The Oregonian newspaper.
There was about a 30 percent jump in the number of people in Washington and Clackamas counties who received food stamps last month, compared to April 2009. In Multnomah County, there was a 21 percent increase from the year before.
State officials said they're seeing more people who have never applied for food stamps seek government help.
Hoan Ngo has seen more people come in because their unemployment benefits are running out.
"Some of them are very desperate," said Ngo, who has processed food stamp applications since 2003. "Some of them could have come in for help sooner."
One of those applying for assistance last week was John Biermann, who is having trouble finding work after he was recently lost his job.
"I used to be embarrassed when I came in with friends who applied," the 32-year-old said. "I've had to let my ego go."
Nationwide, only U.S. citizens or legal immigrants qualify for food stamps. In Oregon, benefits are also determined by income. Families can earn up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level to be eligible for benefits. For a family of four, that currently is up to $3,400 a month.
While the federal government provides the money that pays for the food, the state of Oregon pays for the workers who process and police the applications.