From terrified to hopeful: 1st-time SNAP users hit stores

Coronavirus

Many newly unemployed people finding their way to food

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A few weeks ago, RaChelle Schmidt was working at Portland Center Stage at the Armory. On Wednesday, she was shopping at a Fred Meyer in the Hollywood District using SNAP benefits for the very first time.

Like thousands of others in Oregon and millions across the country, Schmidt lost her job when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“The last I heard we’re off until May but I know it’s going to be longer than that. We just haven’t gotten the word yet,” she told KOIN 6 News.

While she’s furloughed and waiting for unemployment to begin, the single mother of a teenager knew she needed to get some help with food through SNAP (maybe better known as food stamps.)

“I did a Google search of ‘food stamps in Oregon’ and it led me to an online portal,” she said.

She applied online and answered all their questions. “They have somebody call you in a few days and they do an over-the-phone interview and at that time they were able to tell me how much I qualified for and when it would start.”

Oregon grocery stores await surge in SNAP users

On Wednesday, the first of the month, Schmidt took her new Oregon Trail Card to her local Fred Meyer store in Northeast Portland.

“It’s just like a debit card. You run it through the debit machine, they give you a PIN when you get it and you just run it through and put in your PIN. It deducts all of the food items, anything that qualifies for food and everything else you pay cash for.”

Most retailers accept SNAP

Jessica Amaya Hoffman with the Oregon Department of Human Services is the self-sufficiency program manager for Clackamas County.

Grocery shoppers wearing masks at a Fred Meyer store in NE Portland during the coronavirus pandemic, April 1, 2020 (KOIN)

SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — provides money for people to buy their own food at their local store.

“It is unfortunately not the full amount that people will spend in a month or need in a month for their family, but it certainly helps supplement what they need to get them access to food,” Hoffman told KOIN 6 News.

She added most of the major retailers and some smaller grocery stores around Oregon accept SNAP. The card is for food items, not items like toilet paper or cleaning supplies or pre-made meals.

How to apply for
SNAP benefits in Oregon

“In the last few weeks we’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of people applying. Thankfully a lot of them are applying online,” she said.

Jessica Amaya Hoffman with the Oregon Department of Human Services is the self-sufficiency program manager for Clackamas County, April 1, 2020 (KOIN)

SNAP benefits are loaded onto individual debit cards once a month and loaded by the last digit in your Social Security Number. Those with numbers 0 or 1 get loaded on the 1st of the month, numbers 2 through 9 get loaded on those dates.

“Customers get their own card usually mailed to them. Right now we’re trying to mail as many as we can so people don’t need to come into our office,” Hoffman said. “Our numbers have gone up quite a bit, so we’re working as hard as we can to get access to those benefits.”

She added any person who meets the income guidelines can apply and would have access to SNAP without having to worry about work requirements.

Oregon residents are now able to use SNAP benefits to buy groceries online through either Amazon or Walmart, a relaxed guideline enacted last week when the pandemic crushed workers.

‘I was terrified’

For someone like RaChelle Schmidt, this benefit means a lot.

RaChelle Schmidt lost her job during the pandemic and used SNAP benefits for the first time, April 1, 2020 (KOIN)

“I was terrified, obviously, when this first happened because I’m a single mom. It’s not as bad. It’s bad I miss my job. I miss my friends, you know. I miss all that. But I do think that agencies and the government are stepping up so it’s not potentially as painful as it could have been. So it helps a lot.”

She’s hopeful this will be the only month she needs SNAP. “I was able to buy all our regular stuff. I was able to buy stuff for dinners and, you know, I mean sandwiches, lunches.”

Food pantries ‘figuring out how people get fed’ in pandemic

There have been posts on social media she’s seen asking people to not shop over the next few days to leave stock for those using SNAP.

“You may not have a choice but I think it’s a really nice ask,” Schmidt said. “If you can, please do. It really does help. It really does.”

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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