The Need to Restore the Humanity in Hunger Relief

April 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

by David Davenport, President & CEO – On Tuesday, the State Auditor’s office published a report on SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp Program) and the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), detailing what’s wrong with how Texas administers and provides access to this assistance program. The report blames Texas’ poor performance in SNAP’s timeliness and accuracy on technology issues, inefficient processes, and workforce competency issues. You can read the entire report here.

The audit, requested by HHSC Commissioner Tom Suhes, was a step in the right direction, but it falls short of providing a comprehensive analysis of all of the factors contributing to this crisis.

When Kevin Concannon, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, called Texas’ SNAP program administration the worst in the nation and provided suggestions to streamline SNAP processes, there was resistance. What’s shocking is that this reluctance is not based on documented evidence of effectiveness or efficiency of the policy changes.  Concannon’s suggestions, including removing the requirements for fingerprinting and the vehicle asset test – have been proven to work elsewhere, and the shortcomings of the way SNAP is currently administered in Texas have been made clear.

Texas’ HHSC has not recovered from problems caused by privatization, which resulted in the termination of many knowledgable eligibility staffers. When stories of overworked and overwhelmed HHSC staff ran in newspapers across Texas, HHSC did the right thing and asked the Legislative Budget Board and Governor Perry to approve funding for 650 additional staff. The response from our elected officials? Only 250 additional staff positions were approved – not even half of what was requested.

When HHSC hires the same consultant blamed for those privatization problems to fix the enrollment system without soliciting bids from other companies, I can’t help but take note.

And when a HHSC spokeswoman admits, in an interview about the audit results, “We know it’s not a consumer-friendly process,” and in prior interviews about solutions that would ease the burden for applicants, “I don’t think our focus is a participation rate,” it should be glaringly obvious to both HHSC and the Texas Legislature that the problem is greater than a lack of technology and knowledge.

Food Banks are not a SNAP Substitute.

The history and purpose of food banking in this country is clear.  We provide food for community members in urgent times where there is no alternative source for nutrition. When our leaders in Texas choose to ignore their responsibility to administer this program, it forces additional clientele to our services at a time when hunger in the community is already dramatically on the rise. It’s irresponsible at best, and inhumane at worst.

Our Hunger in America study released earlier this year highlighted the unique challenges we face in reducing hunger 25 percent by 2014. Of the nearly 48,000 Central Texans we nourish each week, the majority are at risk of hunger:

  • 26% receive SNAP
  • more than half of households with children ages 0-3 participate in WIC
  • at least two-thirds of households with school-aged children participate in federal school lunch and breakfast programs.

The waiver that will allow some food banks to handle food stamp applications directly and the expansion of food banks’ SNAP outreach staffs will help, but it’s almost like spittin’ on a fire. HHSC and the Legislature must do their part, and be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Restoring the Humanity in Hunger

The State Auditor’s report lends an even greater urgency to the hunger problem in Central Texas, and should be a wake-up call to our community to advocate for change at all levels. Until this problem is fixed, our lines will continue to grow.

With your support, the Capital Area Food Bank will continue to do right by Central Texans because we are uniquely positioned to lead the community in ending hunger. We will expand application assistance efforts in partnership with HHSC,  improve participation rates in SNAP, provide nourishing food to all who need help, and deliver those services with the dignity and humanity every human being deserves.

I leave you with a story of one person, caught up in a web of decisions and forces resulting in the tragedy of hunger.  Meet George, your neighbor.

What can we all do to restore the humanity in giving – and receiving – help?

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