Thursday, March 26, 2009

With Mom and Dad Downsized, Texas Kids Suffer

The sinking economy isn't just affecting the Texas workforce - it's also affecting their children. 

According to the state, the number of Texas children qualifying for federally subsidized school lunches jumped 5% in the last year. Many more recently unemployed parents may be unaware of the program. 

“Schools absolutely should be more proactive about it,” said Celia Hagert, a senior policy analyst with the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities. “That could be a big boost for a family. If they’re struggling and can get breakfast and lunch for free, that’s a huge weight off their shoulders.”

Officials are also seeing an increase in the number of homeless children. Over 300,000 Texas children are currently homeless - more than any other state.  "We are literally seeing our future generations living on the streets," said Amarillo food banker Zack Wilson.

Families with children will receive a small measure of relief in April, when federal stimulus funds increase the average SNAP/food stamps allotment by $38. Efforts are ongoing to create a new program to feed children healthy foods after school and on weekends - see how you can help!

Friday, March 13, 2009

"What He Gets Here Is His Dinner"

This great video from the Capital Area Food Bank in Austin captures the faces of child hunger in Texas, and one of the key programs fighting it - Kids Cafe.

Kids Cafe and programs like it would directly benefit from the passage of Texas Senate Bill 944 / House Bill 1622.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

32 Million on Food Stamps - and 1 in 11 is Texan

New numbers show a record number of Americans - nearly 32 million - turning to the SNAP program (aka Food Stamps) to feed their families. 

One in eleven of these lives in Texas - and anecdotal evidence suggests the need is growing.
  • SNAP offices in Fort Worth are seeing a "dramatic increase" in applicants. "What we saw in January we believe could be our first wave, but it’s only one month of data," said a spokesperson.
  • Offices in Laredo are being flooded with requests. “We have people literally like this. Lines from the windows back as far as our restroom doors,” said office manager Terri Werth.
  • Officials estimate that only 67% of those eligible are receiving the benefit, translating to lost federal aid - as much as $173 million in cities like Dallas
Sitll, aggregate statewide numbers show a recent downward trend. March data from HHSC reports 400,000 fewer individuals receiving benefits since November, when Hurrican Ike generated a spike in need. 

However, experts point out these numbers are still 200,000 higher than six months ago. Many believe the recent drop can be credited to Ike families leaving the program - while the long-term need continues to inch upward.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Texas Unemployment Rate Now 6.4%

Today the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed the January unemployment rates released last week by the Texas Workforce Commission. 

As feared, 6.4% of Texans were unemployed in January, up half a percentage point from the month previous. 

Social service agencies are straining under the weight of increased need, and many are waiting on federal stimulus funds for relief. 

Stimulus money is already supporting farm sector employment in the Texas Panhandle. According to HHSC, the stimulus funds will also help the rising number of hungry Texans, who will see a 13.6% increase in SNAP (aka Food Stamps) benefits next month. In addition to feeding newly hungry families, these funds will drive job growth in the agricultural and food retail sectors.