Now is the time for a Client Bill of Rights!

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Some background

At Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, we have long documented disparate access to the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) services based on race, ethnicity, and/or language. From the early 2000s through 2019, PHFO conducted annual documentation of customer services experiences at ODHS through “secret shopper” activities. Our data show that individuals that speak a language other than English or have a non-white racial/ethic identity were frequently asked to provide more documents than necessary or allowable to apply for SNAP within ODHS policy. 

We partnered closely with ODHS on this work, highlighting findings and recommendations to address barriers. We stopped conducting this work in 2019 because for multiple years we consistently found the same barriers that disproportionately affected communities of color and non-English speakers, and government agencies did not take action to address and change the outcomes. We knew it was time for us to take a different approach and put matters into the community’s hands.

A community-led solution

Working closely with our SNAP Client Advisory Board (SNAP CAB), a group of dedicated community leaders who have lived experience of hunger and poverty, we created a set of expectations for how ODHS employees interact with clients that is based on the actual experiences and needs of those receiving services. Our goal is to present these expectations to the Oregon legislature and enact them as statute, so that every individual who walks through the doors at ODHS is treated fairly and equitably.

SNAP CAB members have universally experienced barriers and poor treatment when seeking services with ODHS, many because of their race, ethnicity, gender, and disability. Board members are deeply connected to their community and witness many who need critical resources encountering trauma and barriers that prevent them from easily accessing supports they need. These experiences were only made worse during the pandemic, as limited in-person access to critical services and changes to ODHS systems – including a new online portal and call center– have starkly limited access.

That’s where the community came in. During the summer of 2021, SNAP CAB created a statewide survey that was distributed to individuals who were currently or had formerly accessed SNAP benefits. We asked survey recipients what their experience with ODHS was like and what they would like to see change. The survey was completed by individuals from all corners of Oregon and the findings were clear: survey results confirmed a need to address customer service and inequitable access through a client bill of rights. From there, the Client Bill of Rights campaign was born.

The Client Bill of Rights

The campaign envisions all Oregonians seeking food benefits are welcomed, supported, and provided with transparency while seeking assistance from Oregon Department of Human Services. To do this, we will present a bill to the Oregon legislature that makes the following asks of ODHS:

  • Centers clients’ rights by being trauma-informed and receiving trauma-informed training
  • Create a supportive and welcoming environment, providing clear information (in requested languages) and transparency on benefit decisions
  • Make community-requested updates to their existing Client Bill of Rights, and visibly posting the Client Bill of Rights in all ODHS offices.
  • ODHS staff, administration, and processes are client-centered and client needs are prioritized.

We see the far reaching outcomes of a policy like this in place at ODHS that will establish metrics for good customer service and client access leading to increased uptake of programs, lower trauma during the application process, and equitable experiences for people of color, people who are gender non-confirming, and those with disabilities seeking ODHS services.

Read the Client Bill of Rights

What we aim to accomplish

Our goal is to introduce this legislation during the 2025 Oregon legislative session. We will be speaking with legislators about the importance of creating a Client Bill of Rights and will seek out sponsors. We will continue to work with community and people that have lived expertise in hunger and poverty to ensure that those who would be most impacted by this legislation are leading the way.

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Learn more about the SNAP Client Advisory Board

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