Over the past two years, 18.5 percent of Texas households – nearly one in five – were hungry or at risk of hunger. This rate is four points higher than the national average, placing Texas as the state with the third-highest rate of food insecurity in the nation. The findings, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recently released report on food security in the US in 2011, serve as a troubling reminder that even as Texas has weathered the recession comparatively well, the state's economic strength hasn't landed on the dinner plates of one-fifth of the state.
According to Celia Cole, CEO of the Texas Food Bank Network, “These numbers should be unacceptable to every Texan. Clearly, we need to invest more as a state and as a nation in a collective effort to improve nutrition and prevent hunger.”
Food security is determined by a survey administered by USDA, which asks questions like how often a family member did not eat when hungry or how often children were unable to eat balanced meals because there wasn't enough money. Families are considered to experience food insecurity when they report that they have had at least three food-insecure situations. That's one in five Texans skipping meals so their kids don't have to or missing out on key nutritional components of meals so that at least everyone can eat something.
Only one in seven Texas receive food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps), leaving a gap between Texans who experience food insecurity and those who are receiving any help from the government. Nationwide, half of all SNAP recipients are still food insecure. As USDA points out, the relationship is complicated: “Since the programs provide food and other resources to reduce the severity of food insecurity, households are expected to be more food secure after receiving program benefits than before doing so. On the other hand, it is the more food-insecure households, those having greater difficulty meeting their food needs, that seek assistance from the programs.” With only $3 a day provided through SNAP, it's not surprising that the recipients – who were already in bad shape financially in order to qualify – still go hungry.
We blogged earlier this year about Republican efforts to cut food stamp assistance even as need increases. Fortunately, the chances of these cuts passing in this Congress are slim at this point. But as we can see, even at the current levels of funding, food stamps aren't enough to keep Texas fed.