A hunger for facing Oregon’s most basic issue

SALEM — Off to the side of the House of Representatives chamber, as his colleagues debated whether the state school budget was too small or fatally too small, Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, argued for the state spending some more money in another area.

“I am going to fight to restore full funding for the Oregon Food Bank, and I’m going to argue with my colleagues,” said the freshman.

“This is not a partisan issue. This is not a rural vs. urban issue. It should precede all other issues if we have people who are hungry.”

Wednesday, when the House Democratic and Republican caucuses held hands and jumped together into a school budget that nobody liked, was also hunger day at the Legislature. Leaders of the Oregon Food Bank, and 100 food group staffers and volunteers from around the state, made their pitch for a small increase ($350,000) in the state’s support of the organization, against the governor’s proposal for a small decrease.

The challenge before the food bank, no matter how much state money it gets, could take away anyone’s appetite. Since the start of the great recession, demand is up 17 percent, to 917,000 emergency food boxes a year.

Nobody expects the need to change soon, but other things will. The food bank increasingly buys food, and its price is shooting up; that causes riots in Tunisia, but also affects Tualatin. From Northeast Portland, the food bank trucks food all around the state, and everybody knows the price of gas.

And this year, the federal government provided OFB with 17 million pounds of surplus food; next year, it will be more like 11 million. At the same time, the federal budget for the rest of this year, passed last Thursday, takes half a billion dollars out of the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, and other programs are on the firing line.

“The federal cutbacks,” said Jon Stubenvoll, the food bank’s director of advocacy, “are downright scary.”

Mike McLane has noticed that, too. At the end of last month, he reported, “According to Rick Crager, acting director of the Oregon Housing and Community Services, President Obama has proposed a 50 percent cut to block grants for programs that feed the hungry. This cut will lead to a 33 percent reduction in Oregon’s budget to get food to the hungry.”

McLane spoke on the occasion of a national fast for hunger, which he followed for three days. “In the Scriptures, the prophet Isaiah said that a fast which is pleasing unto God, is the fast that breaks the chains of oppression, and provides food for the hungry.¤.¤.¤.

“We must make cuts. As we do make cuts, however, I want to encourage my colleagues to work together to find solutions that maintain food for the hungry and address the leading cause of hunger in children — the unemployment and underemployment of parents.”

Wednesday, McLane talked about the empty plates in front of the Legislature.

“I represent a rural district that has the highest unemployment in the state,” he explained. “I think hunger is a moral issue (here).

“I’m not saying state government is the answer. But we’ve got to do our part.”

McLane, a lawyer who grew up in Condon and practiced in Portland before moving back to Central Oregon, would like to see bills coming through committee pick up a hunger impact statement, like an environmental impact statement. He has his own ideas on what it might contain — he’d score capital gains tax cuts and relaxing environmental rules as gains, because he thinks they spur economic activity — but it would certainly make the hunger issue inescapable.

Which is McLane’s point.

“From the Legislature, I have to speak up,” he says. “If I have to annoy a lot of people to get food to kids, I’ll do it.”

And every day in the Capitol, people annoy each other for much worse reasons than that.

Link: A hunger for facing Oregon’s most basic issue

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