Advocacy and Public Policy Update: Interim Charges Address Food Access, State and Local Election News

May 1st, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Federal

The Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday passed out its version of the 2012 Farm Bill. Funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) was strong, with $150 million additional dollars being added to the program.  The SNAP “Heat and Eat” provision, which affects DC and 14 states (not including Texas) was cut at $4 billion.  The bill now goes to the full Senate.  The House Agriculture Committee has begun its hearings on the Farm Bill, with a May 8 hearing scheduled on the nutrition portion of the bill.

Still up for debate is the federal budget, and how those decisions will affect the Farm Bill’s funding.  As previously mentioned, the House Budget Committee last month approved drastic cuts to SNAP of $33 billion by changing it to a block grant.

Discussion around SNAP has generated op eds in Latinometro magazine, the Austin American-Statesman and other articles from current and former SNAP recipients trying to dispel myths.

State

The May 29 Texas primary is less than a month away, and with it comes more political ads from those candidates in primary contests.  Nine Republicans and four Democrats are vying to replace retiring U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.  Every member of the U.S. House is also up for reelection.  At the state level, every member of the Texas Senate and Texas House are up for reelection.  For a recap of who is running for what, see the Texas Tribune’s election bracket app.

On May 22, the House Public Health Committee will hold a joint hearing with the House Committee on Human Services to review an interim charge:  Identify policies to alleviate food insecurity, increase access to healthy foods, and incent good nutrition within existing food assistance programs. Consider initiatives in Texas and other states to eliminate food deserts and grocery gaps, encourage urban agriculture and farmers’ markets, and increase participation in the Summer Food Program. Evaluate the desirability and feasibility of incorporating nutritional standards in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Monitor congressional activity on the 2012 Farm Bill and consider its impact on Texas.

Members of the Texas Food Bank Network and others will be providing testimony to the committee.  Interim charges are reviewed and then reported on by committees, often with recommendations for legislation for the upcoming session.  The next session of the Texas Legislature begins January 8, 2013.

Local

Local elections for city councils and some school boards will be held on May 12.  In Austin, the office of mayor and three city council places are on the ballot.  Municipal elections are also being held in Cedar Park, Lakeway, Marble Falls, and many other cities around the CAFB service area.

To find ballot information on your local municipality, link to your county’s website.  If you live in Travis County, the Austin American- Statesman has published this guide from the League of Women Voters.

The League of Women Voters of Texas also has information on its website from other leagues around the state.

Heiges: Hunger cuts across all generations

December 6th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

This letter appeared in the Austin-American Statesman, December 3, 2010.

During the holidays, dining room tables typically don’t display placards specifying “older adult” or “child/youth” along with the turkey and mashed potatoes. Families gather round: grandparents, parents, children, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Too many families struggle with hunger on a daily basis. We must understand hunger as an intergenerational problem, and by recognizing our intergenerational interdependence, we can solve it.

The U.S. House of Representatives has just passed the Healthy,  Hunger Free Kids Act, a bill that improves critical nutrition programs for low-income children. Over the next 10 years, the bill provides an additional $4.5 billion, strengthening nutrition programs when school is both in and out of session.

As Texans, we should be particularly excited about this legislative victory. Our state has the second worst rate of child hunger in the country, with nearly one in four children suffering from food insecurity.

Unfortunately, Congress proposes to pay for the child nutrition bill with $2.2 billion in cuts from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released a report noting that nationally in 2009, 14.7 percent of households were food insecure, while 17.4 percent of households in Texas were food insecure — considerably more than the national average. It’s a sad irony that SNAP nourishes the same at-risk families of the same at-risk children who will benefit from the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act.

There is hope to change this, but the window of opportunity is closing fast. During the remaining weeks of 2010, Congress must find a fix to restore the SNAP cuts and help everyone at risk of hunger.

The Capital Area Food Bank of Texas provides nearly 48,000 people per week with emergency food assistance. A Central Texas report found more than a third of older clients go for extended periods without food. Food Bank’s partner agencies see an increase in hunger lines, and older adults are in those lines. Through its Drive to End Hunger, AARP places a spotlight on growing numbers of food insecure older adults grappling with the effects of the recession. This year, approximately 6 million older Americans will have struggled with food insecurity. From 2001 to 2007, Texas ranked No. 4 among states with people age 60-90 at risk of hunger.

Older adults who lost their jobs and live on limited incomes often have to make grim decisions between buying food and medicine. Inadequate amounts of nutritious food prevent the absorption of some medicines, further compounding health problems. Many are doing the heroic work of heading multigenerational households and raising grandchildren. Hunger cuts across all generations.

People at risk of hunger make very hard choices, and they aren’t making them at a buffet table. Congress must immediately act to restore SNAP cuts to nourish the millions of people at risk of hunger. It helped hungry children — let’s help their families, too.

Wendy Heiges is senior director of advocacy and public policy at the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas.

Food stamp fund too important to be compromised

August 18th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

This opinion piece appeared in the Austin-American Statesman on August 18, 2010.

by David Davenport, President and CEO

Policymakers make difficult choices. Hungry people make them every day.

The legislative process is exhilarating, vexing, triumphant and inherently disappointing to both policymakers and their constituents. The dynamics of decision-making aren’t surprising … until they punch you in the gut.

President Barack Obama signed into law a jobs bill protecting our public school teachers and emergency responders, and providing assistance to states facing crippling budget deficits. The goals of the bill weren’t just laudable. They were required.

The disappointment comes from how our leaders decided to pay for the bill. They used nearly $12 billion in future Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — food stamp benefits. More than 40 million people in our country are at risk of hunger and simply cannot afford to lose food stamp benefits now or in the future. They too are unemployed teachers, police and human services employees. They are all of us.

For the organization I lead, the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas, the enactment of law that could hurt millions of people at risk of hunger is a disturbing step backward in the fight against hunger. There is no justification for using investments in a program helping low-income people feed and nourish their families to pay for other legislation. Period.

The rationale is: SNAP recipients aren’t endangered now. We can figure something out in a few years. I have two problems with this.

First, SNAP benefits should never be compromised or viewed as a slush fund to pay for any legislative priority. Second, the perception that SNAP recipients aren’t endangered now is because food banks are doing the hard work of providing emergency food assistance to ever-growing lines of people in need.

Last month, the Capital Area Food Bank distributed 2.7 million pounds of food, the most in the organization’s history. If the food bank had to shut down tomorrow, 95 percent of our partner agencies could no longer serve their clients.

Considering the economic crisis, SNAP must be protected at all times. If Congress has a crystal ball predicting how and when our economy will recover relative to the challenges low-income families at risk of hunger will face over the next several years, please share it with our country’s food banks.

In a state with an estimated $18 billion budget deficit and a country facing mind-blowing national debt, all parts of government need to use their best creative thinking to preserve services for vulnerable people and families while keeping costs down. But using SNAP benefits is not the answer.

Hunger is unacceptable, and SNAP benefits are critical in the fight to eliminate hunger. I understand that Congress and Obama have to make difficult choices — but hungry people make them every single day.

The integrity of some programs must never be compromised. Using the funding of a particular program for political convenience could result in 40 million individual tragedies. This program is SNAP.

Join us at www.austinfoodbank.org to get involved and help eliminate hunger for good.

Texas Legislative Board says do more with less. Good luck with that.

October 5th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

lg2Lisa Goddard
Advocacy and Online Marketing Director 

This, my friends, is why hunger is more than just a moral issue. It’s a political issue, too.

Hopefully, you’ve been following the recent embarrassment where a class action lawsuit was filed against the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) for failure to process SNAP (food stamp) applications within the timeframes required by federal law.

Federal law says all SNAP applications must be processed within 30 days, or within seven days for emergency SNAP assistance. Not only has Texas failed to meet these standards in three years, but one out-of-every-six SNAP applications is incorrectly processed by state workers, as mentioned in this Statesman article.

LoneStarCardNow, the federal government has cracked down. Just last week, the USDA sent a warning to HHSC saying that the future funding for SNAP could be suspended if the state doesn’t comply with federal timeliness standards.

While the ultimate solution is clearly complex, one thing that most folks agree upon is that more qualified case workers will make a big difference.  Well, except for the Texas Legislative Budget Board (LBB) which approves funding for more workers. 

HHSC requested 650 additional workers to help with the backlog of applications from hungry Texans but was only given permission to hire 250 new workers.  And yes, the LBB made this decision in the face of the public tongue-lashing from the USDA, significant increase in SNAP participation this past year and horrendous new poverty data.

What you can do today:

Call your state legislative representatives (both house and senate) and tell them hunger issues are a priority for you, and it is unacceptable for qualified families to be delayed access to SNAP (feel free to say Food Stamps).  The more they hear from you, the better our chances in the upcoming legislative session.  It’s never to early to act.

Not sure who your representative is?  Use our search tool here.

2008 Census data reveals things are pretty bad, and this is just the beginning.

September 30th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

LGLisa Goddard
Advocacy and Online Marketing Director

The 2008 American Community Survey (ACS), conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, provides a snapshot of the nation’s economic and social health.

austinMSAFor the Austin-Round Rock MSA (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties), the report is not promising:

  • 206,337 live in poverty
  • 66,060 children live below the poverty line
  • 30,232 worked this past year and are poor
  • 4,293 worked 12 months out of the year and, in spite of their work, was still poor

In a September 10th interview with the Star-Telegram, State demographer Karl Eschbach gave a sobering reminder that the data on income and poverty do not reflect the recession’s impact on earnings. Texas didn’t really enter the recession until late 2008, so the poverty numbers won’t reflect that until next year.  ”In some respect, those are some of the best years for Texas in relation to the nation since 1981 or 1982. But for poverty and income, I would expect to see numbers in the next round to not look as good,” said Karl.

If you missed the Statesman’s recent report on Austin’s poverty numbers, read it here.