Food insecurity in Texas has more than doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic, panelists in the online Texas Food Policy Roundtable noted.
Prior to the pandemic, 13 percent of the state’s population was food insecure, which means at some point in any given month, they lack reliable access to enough affordable and nutritious food to sustain a healthy life. After COVID-19, 29 percent of Texans are food insecure, panelists participating in the online event June 19 said.
“Hunger was a problem before the pandemic. Sadly, it is a problem that will outlast the pandemic,” said Celia Cole, chief executive officer of Feeding Texas, the statewide food bank network.
Just as the pandemic disproportionately has affected people of color, food insecurity likewise is disproportionately prevalent among Hispanic and Black Texans, she noted.
Food insecurity particularly affects families with children, elderly Texans and rural residents, she noted. It is a problem in all 254 Texas counties, she added.
“In a nutshell, food insecurity forces tough choices on families and can have devastating consequences,” Cole said.
“Health and hunger are deeply connected. Food insecurity leads to diet-related illness and is linked to adverse effects to overall health.”
Food insecurity particularly is devastating for children, affecting their health, learning and future prosperity, she said.
She also pointed to the “economic toll” of food insecurity, pointing out hunger costs the Texas economy an estimated $44.2 billion annually.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a decline in available funds for the state, but advocates for programs designed to eliminate hunger in Texas voiced support for what they call “sensible and proven solutions to increase food security for vulnerable Texans”—particularly low-income families, senior adults and children.
“While there are many things we can’t control about the pandemic, we can surely prevent hunger from becoming a symptom of COVID-19,” Cole said.
Primary strategies for increasing food security are strengthening the charitable food system and streamlining access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Panelists outlined legislative priorities for Texas lawmakers:
- Fully fund the Surplus Agricultural Products Grant program, which provides surplus farm-raised produce to food banks and charitable organizations. In May, the Texas Department of Agriculture proposed a $1.9 million cut in the program—an action that would remove 19.8 millions pounds of produce from the plates of families in need.
- Make SNAP more available to senior adults and people with disabilities by streamlining the application, extending certification to 36 months, waiving the recertification interview and using data matching to notify Medicaid recipients of their eligibility for SNAP benefits.
- Remove the vehicle asset limit for SNAP eligibility. Currently, the 20-year-old SNAP asset limit per family is $5,000 cash, $15,000 value of first vehicle and $4,650 for a second vehicle. The vehicle limit eliminates many recently unemployed individuals, as well as families with two working adults—particularly in rural or suburban areas where public transportation to jobs is not available.
- End the full-family sanction, which withholds all SNAP benefits from a family when the adult head of the household is not able to meet work requirements. In 40 other states, only the parent—not children—is sanctioned.
- Improve college students’ access to SNAP and reform the employment and training program. Student access to benefits could be accomplished by designating community college programs as “local programs increasing employability.” Services could be improved by allowing third-party businesses and non-profit organizations to participate in employment and training programs, alongside the Texas Workforce Commission.