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Insights from Oregon's 2024 Legislative Session: Victories and Missed Opportunities

Oregon’s Legislature wrapped up its "short" session on Thursday, March 7, 2024. Driven by the ongoing economic fallout of COVID-19, the sunsetting of pandemic safety nets and the rising cost of food and housing, we are in an ongoing hunger crisis. Last year, we saw 1.9 million visits to food assistance sites through the Oregon Food Bank Network — a 14 percent increase from the previous year.

Amidst these challenges, advocacy through public policy remains a vital tool in our mission to end hunger and its root causes. While it's difficult to describe the session in a single word or sentiment, here's our honest take on some of the significant decisions made.


294,000 Kids will Receive Food Assistance this Summer

Oregon's legislature has secured participation in the federal Summer EBT program for this summer and beyond, benefiting 294,000 children and families with an extra $40 per month for groceries during the summer months. This initiative supports kids who rely on free school meals during the school year but don’t have this critical support during the summer. Oregon joins 37 states, five territories and three tribal nations in implementing this program, which previously reduced child hunger by one third among participating families during its pilot. While some families will automatically receive the benefit, others will need to apply. We will share information on the application process when available.

Investments in Affordable and Stable Housing

This session was a critical and successful year for addressing our state’s ongoing housing crisis. The Legislature allocated approximately $375 million towards housing-related initiatives including:

  • $65 million for shelter assistance
  • $34 million for rental aid and other vital services
  • Additional funding was earmarked for programs like the Healthy Homes Fund and Individual Development Accounts, aimed at supporting families in securing stable housing

While this year saw significant progress, the housing crisis remains a pressing issue, with many Oregonians still facing housing insecurity and tough decisions between food, rent and other necessities. To address this, ongoing legislative focus and commitment are essential, including efforts to meet Governor Kotek’s goal of producing roughly 36,000 homes each year for the next ten years

Access to Child Care

Child care is often called “the work that makes all other work possible.” We agree. The legislature allocated approximately $169 million to bolster the Employment Related Day Care (ERDC) program, acknowledging its crucial role in supporting families afford child care. Additionally, funding was approved to enhance access to meals for children at eligible daycare providers through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACAP). We applaud these investments and encourage continued efforts to meet the growing demand, address escalating care costs and eliminate racial and regional disparities in child care access and affordability.

Equal Access to Hot Foods

The legislature passed a pathway for Oregon to participate in the Restaurant Meals Program, an exciting addition to the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This option enables individuals facing difficulties in meal preparation, including seniors and those experiencing houselessness, to use SNAP benefits to buy prepared food at select retailers. Oregon Food Bank eagerly anticipates playing a role in implementing this program.

Missed Opportunities

Funding Requests to Support Oregonians Experiencing Hunger Denied

Oregon's food pantries and meal sites are grappling with a return to peak-pandemic demand while hunger rates continue to rise. Unfortunately, the legislature did not fund several critical initiatives:

  • Oregon Food Bank's $10 million request for emergency food purchasing was denied.
  • Josephine County Food Bank's $860,000 funding request was rejected, aimed at purchasing property and establishing a commercial kitchen for food repackaging.
  • The Student Emergency Needs Package did not advance — designed to support students facing food and housing insecurity.
  • A funding request to maximize a federal grant for Double Up Food Bucks was not approved — intended to enhance access to locally-grown produce for SNAP participants.

During this hunger crisis, funding for food to meet immediate needs alongside long-term solutions are vital. We're actively seeking alternative funding and remain hopeful for continued state support for Oregon's Emergency Food Network.

Oregon Regresses to the Failed War on Drugs

“You want to know what this [war on drugs] was really all about?... We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” — John Ehrlichman, Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs under President Richard Nixon and one of the architects of the ‘War on Drugs’

We wanted to take the time to share our perspective on one of the most contentious issues before the legislature this year, and one of the most crucial for Oregonians.

Oregon Food Bank’s mission is to eliminate hunger and its root causes. Among these root causes is mass incarceration which leaves 90 percent of people returning from incarceration experiencing food insecurity; and 70 percent of households with a formerly incarcerated member struggling to meet essential needs like food and housing.

The primary driver of mass incarceration is the "War on Drugs," which was never about addressing addiction but instead a set of policies that is systemically racist both in intent and impact. We are heartbroken that Oregon’s legislature passed a sweeping policy to reinstate this failed war on drugs with HB 4002, which undid the core of the voter-approved Ballot Measure 110.

With HB 4002 in place, Black and brown Oregonians are at risk of disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates, harsher sentences and worsening racial disparities in food, housing and employment.

Many supporters of HB 4002 argued that some Oregonians subject to the new misdemeanor may have the option for "deflection," where they can avoid arrest and prosecution by completing a program (assuming one is available) referred to by law enforcement. However, making deflection programs optional under HB 4002 will result in unequal access to deflection and treatment programs. Allowing counties to choose whether to create deflection programs means that people experiencing addiction in counties that opt out will be incarcerated and face life-damaging criminal records at higher rates than counties that do participate. This also allows police and prosecutors to make impactful decisions on whether a person can participate in a deflection program, multiplying opportunities for institutional racism.

Oregon Food Bank knows that community-led solutions to eliminate hunger and its root causes are the most effective, but the process leading to HB 4002 excluded leaders from communities of color. Instead, the bill was crafted under the threat of a ballot measure funded by wealthy individuals and corporate interests. This is not good policy making and will hurt our communities.

The nationwide fentanyl crisis is causing serious harm in our communities and Oregonians deserve serious solutions. Despite positive investments in addiction treatment services, housing and restorative justice, these could have occurred without returning to criminalization for drug possession, a move that will divert resources from critical services.

As these changes take effect, we will monitor their impact with a particular eye on resulting disparities for communities of color, advocating for changes consistent with our shared values of racial justice.


Our advocacy efforts are focused on ensuring food is available to all who need it. Food is essential to our daily lives — and our freedom, our health, our ability to thrive all depend on access to food that is both nourishing and familiar.

Yet we know we can’t truly end hunger for good through food alone; we have to take action to prevent hunger from happening in the first place. That means addressing the policies and systems that drive hunger and poverty in our communities. We also know that due to systemic injustices, many people experience hunger at disproportionately high rates, including renters; Black, Indigenous and all People of Color; immigrants and refugees; trans and gender expansive individuals; and single mothers and caregivers.

Finally, we would like to offer our gratitude to everyone who learned about these issues and participated in the process. We invite you to continue living into your power.

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