space traveling warriors tier list : Spiraling costs make some local families choose between food, medical

Local residents on fixed incomes and those who have to travel long distances for shopping or medical care are being hit especially hard by the skyrocketing price of fuel and staple foods.

Holli Thomas, 54, of Keizer, sells clothes and furniture to pay the rising costs of gas for her cancer treatments. (Ron Cooper/Reporter Salem)

Holli Thomas’ breast cancer is responding to the drug test she is enrolled in.

But the 54-year-old Keizer resident has to drive to Oregon Health & Science University in Portland for her treatment. With gas prices above $5 a gallon, she is now having to sell clothes and furniture to pay for travel.

“It’s a budget nightmare,” she said.

She is among area residents struggling with an annual inflation rate above 8%, with prices of staples like meat and fuel straining household budgets, especially for low-wage earners and those on fixed incomes.

Despite record wage gains last year, workers across Oregon are seeing their ability to buy necessities eroded by inflation, said Gail Krumenauer, the state’s employment economist.

“Most of the time, salary increases do not keep up with inflation. Your checkbook is getting hit harder every month,” Krumenauer said.

Thomas was diagnosed in 2017 with triple negative breast cancer, a particularly aggressive form of the disease. With daily appointments at Salem Health’s oncology department and short-term memory loss from a sepsis infection caused by the treatment, she cannot work and relies on $1,532 a month in Social Security disability payments.

His daughter is his full-time caregiver, paid by the state, and brings home about $1,800 a month. They live with Thomas’ 12-year-old granddaughter in a house that rents for $1,175 a month.

Thomas said it now costs about $57 to fill the tank of his Buick Encore, up from $37 before gas prices soared. As a caregiver, her daughter can be reimbursed up to 30 miles a month for driving to doctor’s appointments—but only two of the nearly 16 miles to and from Salem Health consume that money.

To survive, Thomas said his family has stopped stocking up on groceries and is now buying just enough to cook a meal or two at a time. Fresh vegetables and meat became luxuries, so they turned to other protein sources like eggs, although the bird flu is now causing the cost of eggs to rise as well.

“The hamburger is so ridiculously expensive,” said Thomas.

Local stores Fred Meyer and Safeway are charging about $5.99 a pound for ground beef this week, while Roth’s has a sale of $3.99 a pound through Tuesday.

They also went on to sell her clothes from her previous career as a business executive, and some furniture left over from when she and her daughter moved in together.

“We stole Peter to pay Paul to survive,” she said.

Salem residents in emails and social media posts, responding to a question about how inflation has affected them, described being shocked by their recent food receipts — $5 for a bag of Doritos, $6 for a dog. hot, $7 for a box of Cheerios. One reader noted that Costco raised the price of a package of its muffins to $8.99, one of several staples the warehouse retailer recently raised by a dollar.

Some said they made little change in their lives other than cutting back on car travel. Others described a more careful supermarket budget, efforts to cut back on meat and fears that rising costs could push them onto the street.

“At this rate, it’s unavoidable,” wrote one person, saying his $16-an-hour manufacturing job can’t keep up with the rent and cost of living.

The US Department of Agriculture in your May forecast predicted that the price of food consumed at home would rise by between 7 and 8% in 2022, with restaurant prices rising accordingly.

The agency predicted that in 2022, compared to last year, pork prices will increase by 6-7% and prices for other meats by 9-10%. Meat and gas companies are among those posting record profits in 2022, leading some to call higher prices a form of price manipulation.

Average fuel costs in Salem have increased by at least 60 cents from a month ago for all types of gas, according to AAA data. Salem residents paid, on average, about $5.37 for a gallon of regular gasoline on Tuesday, up from $4.69 a month earlier.

The average cost per gallon of diesel on Tuesday was about $5.94 in Salem, up from $5.49 a month earlier.

Social service providers in the Salem area are also seeing the strain, with overlapping crises compounding problems for families already struggling to make ends meet.

Melissa Baurer, who oversees community health, outreach and other social programs at Santiam Hospital, said her service integration team has seen more requests for gas cards to help families get to and from appointments and buy groceries.

The team, which helps connect families in the Santiam area to social services, recently received requests through the Marion County Women, Babies, and Children program, a federal voucher program that allows mothers with young children to purchase staple foods and formula. .

Baurer said the WIC office would call the families to let them know the formula was in stock at a local supermarket, only to find the family couldn’t make the trip to buy it.

“They were finding that they couldn’t afford gas to get to that store because the stores weren’t in their normal shopping area,” she said.

It’s one of the ways that rising costs have hit rural residents especially hard.

More people are also ordering deliveries from local food banks because they can’t afford gas to get food, she said, and are missing medical appointments because of the distance to travel or because they can’t afford co-payments.

“They’re missing primary care appointments or they’re putting off their surgeries,” Baurer said.

So far this year, Santiam’s social workers have answered 417 requests for help with basics like food, utilities, rent and gas. Wildfire survivors, many of whom live in trailers and need help with propane, are especially affected, Baurer said.

The Marion Polk Food Share saw an increase in people seeking food help in April, with 13,513 visits to regional food pantries. That’s the highest number they’ve seen since December 2020, said Sam Tenney, a spokesperson for the nonprofit.

State economists in their latest forecastreleased on May 18, forecast inflation will begin to decelerate.

Josh Lehner, a state economist, said the rise in prices was largely due to disruptions to the economy caused by the war in Ukraine and supply chain problems and lockdowns in China.

“At least half of the rise in inflation has to do with this, so if we can fix these problems or at least stop them from getting worse,” prices should stop rising, he said.

He said that as of now, the economy does not appear to be heading towards recession. He saw some publicly traded companies in their first-quarter earnings reports note that consumers are shifting their spending from discretionary to basic items, but so far they’re not cutting spending. Federal economic data, which is often late, does not yet show such changes, he said.

For now, he said, “it seems like inflation is a huge pain for all consumers, for all Oregonians,” he said.

Thomas said she doesn’t see how people like her can survive in the current economy.

“They are cutting the throats of the middle class. We’re all going to be poor or billionaires and I don’t see myself jumping to billionaire,” Thomas said.

Help: Santiam’s service integration team needs additional volunteers willing to help deliver food or drive people to appointments. Interested parties can email [email protected]. Staff also accepts donations and gas cards in person at 11758 Sublimity Rd, Sublimity, weekdays from 8:30 am to 5 pm, or by mail to 1401 N. 10th Ave., Stayton, ATTN: Santiam Service Integration.

Ardeshir Tabrizian contributed reporting.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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