Friday, April 24, 2009

One in Four Houstonites Cutting Back on Groceries

A new survey by the Houston Center for Public Policy details the economic situation facing Houston-area families. Notably:
  • 44% of respondents said the economy was the city's most serious problem, up from 15% the previous year. 
  • 25% admitted having trouble buying groceries to feed their families.
The results dovetail with the increased demand experienced by local food charities. 

According to Brian Greene, CEO of the Houston Food Bank, unemployment often forces families to cut budgets where they can, while monthly costs like rent, utilities and car payments remain fixed. 

“Food is one of the few flexible areas” in the family budget, Greene told the Houston Chronicle in response to the survey's findings.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hunters, Supermarkets Provide Protein to Struggling Food Banks

Responding to rising levels of need, two private groups stepped forward last week to assist Texas food banks in their struggle against hunger.
  • In the Amarillo region, United Supermarkets partnered with the High Plains Food Bank to donate meat and other perishables. United estimates it will provide 5,000 lbs./month to the food bank, which is seeing double the number of families it fed at this time last year. "[It] couldn't have come at a better time," said a food bank spokesperson.
  • Hunters in South Texas are firing up their participation in Hunters for the Hungry, a group that promotes the donation of harvested deer statewide. "Times are difficult," said one hunter. "And there are a lot of hungry people who could use all that venison."

Friday, April 17, 2009

State: Feeding New Hungry like "Drinking from a Firehose"

Facing rapidly rising need, state officials have announced a temporary halt to the expansion of TIERS, a new system for processing SNAP benefits (formerly known as Food Stamps). 

“It’s tough to make any changes when you’re drinking from a fire hose,” said Stephanie Goodman, a spokesman for the state.

Nearly 3 million Texans are now receiving SNAP benefits, up 20% from the same time last year. 

Advocates and legislators approved of the halt. Many have been critical of the system, which has documented problems with lost paperwork and timeliness. "We cannot have a situation where technical glitches hold up food and medical care for hard working mothers and families in our area," said Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Robstown).

HHSC has had "some challenges in achieving the timeliness benchmarks," admitted HHSC Commissioner Albert Hawkins. The deteriorating economy has just added more stress to the rollout of this new system. 

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Stimulus Money Reaching Hungry Texans

Starting this month, the nearly three million Texans who rely on SNAP benefits (previously known as Food Stamps) will receive a 13.6% boost in those benefits to help feed their families. 

As a result of federal stimulus dollars now reaching Texas, families are seeing an average boost to their benefits of $38. 

"You have to make every penny count," said Beaumont mother Monique Bendy. "This will help in so many ways." 

Half of the Texans benefiting from SNAP are children.

SNAP is widely seen by economists as one of the most effective means of stimulus, both because of the efficiency of benefit delivery, and the speed at which benefits are spent locally. 

"That money is spent almost immediately. People aren't saving that money," said Don Baylor, policy analyst at Austin's Center on Public Policy Priorities. "People buy bread. That creates jobs at the supermarket, and the chain goes on."

Economists estimate that for every dollar in SNAP benefits spent in Texas, the state will see $1.73 in economic activity, resulting in local job growth. 

Monday, April 6, 2009

State Stats: Texas Hunger at New Plateau

For weeks, anecdotal evidence across Texas has suggested a rise in the number of families facing hunger. Food Banks have appealed for public help, describing the situation as "critical" in North Texas and "overwhelming" in South Texas. In East Texas, a man was caught burgling for food

Now, public numbers have given added weight to these stories. As reported last week by Reuters, 1 in 10 Americans is now using the SNAP program (previously known as Food Stamps) to feed their families. Texas has the highest number of SNAP recipients at 2.8 million - half of whom are children.

In the past three months, policy analysts have watched as Texas SNAP numbers fell, a result of families no longer needing emergency relief from Hurricane Ike. This trend slowed in February, and has now reversed - more than 39,000 Texans entered the program in March (see graph). It now appears that Texas has reached a new plateau of need. 

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Recession Reduces Healthy Eating

New research finds that families faced with high prices and rising unemployment are cutting back on the quality of their meals. 

A February survey conducted by Multi-Sponsor Surveys found that 40% of Americans are eating less nutritious food. The effect was most pronounced among families hit hardest by the recession: those who self-identified as "down and out" or "on the edge." 

Confirming this study, a national industry group reported a 3.6% drop in sales of fruits and vegetables in the final months of 2008. 

Texas families are also stretching their paychecks to eat. Many low-income families are making the difficult decision to sacrifice quality before quantity - essentially mortgaging long-term health against the immediate need to eat. Help bring more healthy foods to Texas children! Ask your representatives to support SB 944 / HB 1622.