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Hunger on the ballot: What Patrick Starnes stands for

The priorities of our elected officials can make a major difference in the day-to-day lives of Oregon families and communities. Below they answer our questions and share their vision to end hunger and its root causes.

The Governor's responsibility to ensuring food access

Question 1

More than a million Oregonians, from every single county in the state, accessed food assistance through the Oregon Food Bank Network in 2021. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 702,000 Oregonians have participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program (SNAP, sometimes referred to as “food stamps”). What are the responsibilities of the Governor to ensure that our communities have consistent access to nutritious, culturally-appropriate food?

Answer

Most importantly, the governor needs to listen first. The people that are experiencing hunger in our communities are the experts and the best source of ideas for effective, equitable solutions to this crisis. Oregon has an amazing network of local, regional, and state cohorts and I think state government should get out of the way and support them in the ways they identify. To facilitate that, I would establish the Office of the Food Insecurity Advocate, the state’s point of contact for all hunger-related issues. The Advocate would work with the network of cohorts, centering support on local expertise.

Systemic racism and hunger

Question 2

Community members who are Black, Indigenous or People of Color face significantly higher rates of poverty and food insecurity than White Oregonians.

  1. What role, if any, do you believe systemic racism plays in causing hunger?

  2. What policies and programs would you support to reduce poverty and food insecurity in these communities?

Answer

  1. Systemic racism affects all aspects of life for BIPOC, and the oppression and lack of opportunities they face are interwoven. Studies show that structural racism is a key contributor to inequity in health outcomes. BIPOC communities are more likely to be “food deserts” with little healthy, economical options within easy access. Systemic inequities in employment, earnings, credit, housing, health care, and criminal justice are mutually reinforcing and can all lead to food insecurity.

  2. Food insecurity is a public health issue. My plan for universal healthcare – OHP4all – would address hunger as a measure of health outcomes and work with the Office of the Food Insecurity Advocate and stakeholders in a shared effort to eliminate hunger. Because we must remain flexible and sensitive to the needs of those experiencing hunger, I would be open to exploring any proposal brought to me by these communities. Some other policies I would support include:

  • Instituting a better SNAP outreach plan to underserved communities
  • Restoring the supplement to SNAP benefits in place during the pandemic
  • Providing support for EBT access and matching SNAP benefits at all farmers’ markets
  • Bolstering school meal programs including free, nutritious breakfast, lunch, and summer food service
  • Making the ability to use SNAP benefits on hot food permanent, to better serve the houseless and those without access to meal preparation equipment
  • Exploring the creation of a fund to develop grocery stores in low-income and underserved areas
Essential food workers and food insecurity

Question 3

From the fields to the grocery store, our food industry is anchored by essential workers who are immigrants. Yet the workers who keep food on our tables are among the lowest paid in Oregon. As governor, what would you do to ensure that the people who grow, process and serve our food do not experience food insecurity themselves?

Answer

I applaud the legislature’s recent passage of overtime pay for farmworkers. Equitable pay is a necessary step toward food security, as is the opportunity for the undocumented to become citizens with the same rights as other workers.

Emergency food programs and service providers need to meet immigrants in their communities. Besides educating and enrolling farmworkers into federal assistance programs, we should offer direct help by providing easy access to fresh, healthy, and culturally appropriate foods.

I believe we should expand eligibility requirements for SNAP and other public assistance programs. One example is the California Food Assistance Program which provides state-funded food stamps to non-citizens who do not qualify for SNAP.

Food insecurity in rural, urban and suburban communities

Question 4

From Ontario, to Portland, to Tillamook, rates of poverty and food insecurity are relatively similar. As governor, how would you design solutions to poverty and hunger across rural, urban and suburban communities?

Answer

The pandemic showed us that stimulus programs targeted to the most needy are an extremely effective method of raising the living standard of millions. Last year’s expanded child tax credit cut the child poverty rate by roughly 30%, lifting nearly 4 million kids out of poverty. I support targeted stimulus to address crises as they occur, like a gas rebate paid to the lowest-income households, those that are choosing between getting to work and eating. We have been bombarded by unforeseen disasters like a pandemic, extreme weather events, and historic political divisions. We need the flexibility to respond to them quickly and effectively.

But again, I would defer to the people in these diverse communities when it comes to designing solutions for their unique needs. There will never be an effective one-size-fits-all solution in a state as disparate as Oregon. I think the state can be most effective by providing the access, structural support, and financial backing necessary to make individual programs successful and sustainable.

Barriers to BIPOC farming

Question 5

Of the state’s 67,595 farm producers, only 64 were Black in 2017. Black, Indigenous and People of Color have long experienced barriers in access to land, infrastructure and markets to support farming — negatively impacting both food production and economic development in communities.

  1. Does the governor have any responsibilities to remove barriers to farming for Oregonians who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color?

  2. If yes, what policies and programs would you support?

Answer

  1. The governor has responsibility for removing ALL barriers for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Strengthening support for BIPOC within the farming sector can lead to long-term prosperity for these communities while helping to create locally sustainable food sources.

  2. I support the recommendations in the reference document you cited: Leveling the Fields: Creating Farming Opportunities for Black, Indigenous and Other People of Color. Among them:

  • Grants, subsidies, and incentives to make it easier for BIPOC to rent, finance, and own land.
  • Exploring alternative land rental and ownership options such as ground leases, lease-to-buy options, co-operatives, and agricultural conservation easement programs
  • Expanding financial support through outreach and technical support to increase participation in USDA programs
  • Improving access to funding including no collateral, low-interest, and microloans
Affordable housing

Question 6

Oregon faces a crisis of affordable housing. People who request food assistance consistently cite the cost of housing as a primary reason for seeking help — and renters are more than six times more likely to experience hunger than homeowners. As governor, what will you do to move us toward an Oregon in which everyone has safe, affordable and healthy housing?

Answer

I would create the Oregon Shelter Fund outside of the General Fund. Revenue will be generated by enacting a vacancy fee on abandoned homes and commercial buildings. This money could be matched with local and federal dollars to provide affordable housing and vital services for the homeless and those in danger of becoming so. As the “Timber Capitol of the World,” Oregon can provide shelter for the unhoused and affordable housing for the working families in tourist dominated areas of Oregon.

Caregivers and food insecurity

Question 7

The work of caring for one another is disproportionately shouldered by women. While the labor of caring for children, the elderly and people with disabilities is often unpaid, professions of childcare and home healthcare are among the lowest paid in Oregon. Single mothers and caregivers are over three times more likely to experience hunger than the general population. As governor, what will you do to ensure that the people providing care in our communities do not experience food insecurity?

Answer

Aside from the measures already described to improve support for underserved communities, I would stress outreach targeted at caregivers with instructions for accessing geographically accessible resources. This outreach should be delivered via TV, social media, phone calls, text messages and literature mailed to homes or the workplace and posted in settings likely to be frequented by caregivers: schools, healthcare settings and long-term care centers.

Hear from each candidate

Read everything the candidates had to say on anti-hunger policies by clicking on their photo below.

* Questions were sent to candidates who will appear on the primary ballot. We will be sending questions to other independent candidates who qualify for the ballot in the November general election and provide their full answers at that time.

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