Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Houston, San Antonio Forgo Million$ in Federal Hunger Relief

A national report issued today by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) finds that despite growing hunger, only 51% of eligible Houstonians and 72% of eligible San Antonians are participating in the federal Food Stamps Program. 

This under-participation costs the two cities an estimated combined $198.5 million in annual federal aid that could be used to significantly decrease the local rates of hunger and increase economic activity.

"Cities have to do a much better job of reaching eligible people with food stamps," said Jim Weill, FRAC president. "Households are crushed between rising food prices and falling incomes. Food stamps are a crucial way to help."

Past opinion surveys conducted by the USDA have found that just 17% of eligible families don’t participate because they don’t want the help. Most are either unaware they are eligible, or don’t want to go through the onerous process of applying. 

In related news, 30,000 more Texans receiving food stamps were transferred to the troubled TIERS system this week. 

Friday, October 24, 2008

Schools See Jump in Hungry Kids

A sign of troubling times, the number of applications for free and reduced price school meals in the Dallas-Fort Worth area jumped nearly 40% this school year, according to the Star-Telegram.

Next year, Congress is scheduled to debate changes to this federally-funded program. In a recent public comment period, many Texas anti-hunger organizations expressed their feeling that these crucial programs must adapt to the new reality.

"Now is the time to rise to these challenges," stated a letter signed by twenty-one Texas organizations. "A well-conceived and adequately financed reauthorization bill, focused on the right program improvements, can do much to reduce hunger and food insecurity, address the problem of childhood overweight and obesity, improve child nutrition and health, and enhance child development and school readiness."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Working Poor Rising in Texas

In recent weeks, two reports have noted an increase in working Texans toiling under the federal poverty line, a notoriously stingy measure of need equaling just $17,600 for a family of three.

The Working Poor Families Project used Census data to determine that 37% of working families in Texas are "officially" poor according to federal guidelines. This makes Texas one of eleven states where more than a third of the working population remains poor.

Most astonishing, these numbers increased since 2002, when the report was last published. "Both the number and percentage of low-income families increased during this period," said Brandon Roberts, co-author of the report. "This was a time when we had solid and robust economic growth."

A second report, released by the Brookings Institute this summer, found a growing density of low-income workers in many supposed economic powerhouses, including Dallas. Both reports rely on available data from 2007, and don't take account of the recent financial crisis.

Friday, October 10, 2008

More People, Uneven Food Supplies Yield “Feeding Frenzy”

At a time when the number of hungry in Texas and across the nation is rising, food banks are facing diminishing returns from many traditional donors, writes Foodlinks America.  

“Warehouse donations are essentially flat,” explained JC Dwyer, state policy coordinator for the Texas Food Bank Network.  

“Manufacturers now have a large salvage after-market [...] and large corporate brands have abandoned their scattered, charitable giving of the past,” said Dwyer. Many of these companies are now telling food banks "‘don’t call us to ask, because we have a system to determine when and where we give.’"

Based on national trends, food banks expect a 7% drop in donations from large corporate sources in the coming year. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rising Food Stamps = Rising Hunger

On Monday, the state revealed that 609,595 Texas households - representing 1.5 million Texans - received disaster food stamps as a result of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. This staggering number includes 150,908 completely new applications since Ike -  a testament to the severe need facing its victims and the powerful response of this federal program.

Even before Ike, food stamp levels in Texas were astronomically high. According to HHSC records 2.5 million Texans, 57% of whom were children, were forced to rely on food stamps in August - despite continuing problems plaguing 1 in 5 applications to the state's new eligibility system. 

While this bottleneck must be fixed, local nonprofits are helping families cope with the interim system. Summer Stringer of the Tarrant Area Food Bank, who helps families apply for food stamps, explained that many families don't know what to do. "For some folks, this is the first time through here, and they’re really embarrassed," she told the Ft. Worth Star Telegram.

Even the feds are getting involved. Recognizing that need is outstripping the delivery of services for these newly hungry families, USDA announced a $75,000 outreach grant to the South Texas Food Bank late last month. 

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Food Stamps Help More Texans, But Still Hard to Eat Healthy

Last month, many Houstonians made hungry and homeless by Hurricane Ike learned the hard way how tough it is to get food stamps. Federal rules for the program bar anyone earning more than 130% of the poverty line (about $22,880 for a family of three) from receiving help, yet many thousands of new applicants still lined up at HHSC offices following the storm. 

Helpfully, those who were found eligible are now getting a boost, according to HHSC's website. To help get storm victims back on their feet, Texas has received permission to increase the monthly benefit amount by as much as $331 per family. 

This is great news for those who have lost so much, as Molly Rueter from KLTV News can attest. Molly took the "Food Stamp Challenge" in September, limiting her shopping to the average individual food stamps amount (roughly $1/meal). What she learned was sobering - fruits and vegetables "just cost too much," she wrote "so eating healthy was definitely difficult."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

State Declares "Go Texan" Day to Aid Food Banks

Today, October 1st is "Go Texan" Day, declared Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples yesterday at the Capital Area Food Bank. 

Staples' office created the statewide event to both promote local food and aid the 16% of Texas households that are food insecure and facing rising food prices. Participating restaurants will be offering special "all-Texas" menus, the proceeds from which will benefit food banks throughout the state. Consider dining out tonight!