According to a new study released yesterday by Feeding Texas, 3.5 million Texans receive charitable food from a food bank or partner agency annually. On average, they receive assistance seven times per year.
The study, Hunger In America 2014, was coordinated by Feeding America, the national food bank network, and the research firms Urban Institute & Westat. The report looks at survey data from October 2012 to August 2013 from Texas food banks to create a picture of Texas as a whole.
The study found that of those seeking food assistance in Texas, 29% identify as white, 24% as black or African American, and 41% as Hispanic or Latino. 30% are children age 18 or younger.
One of the most troubling findings of the study is that of the millions of Texans who are receiving food assistance, the majority have had to choose between buying food and other basic needs. Within the past year, millions of Texas families have reported choosing between paying for food and purchasing medical care, utilities, and transportation.
Millions of households have also had to develop coping strategies to feed their families. Of those surveyed in the study, 69% reported doing things like eating food past its expiration date, growing food in a garden, pawning or selling personal property, and watering down food or drinks.
The study further found that 86% of food bank client households had annual incomes below $20,000, which is well below the poverty line. Additionally, in half of food bank client households, the primary breadwinner had held a job in the previous year. Most not working (85%) were retired, disabled or acting as a caretaker for another.
The Hunger in America report reaffirms what we’ve already seen about Texas: it is one of the states hardest hit by food insecurity in the nation. One in six Texas households are at risk of hunger, but it’s hasn’t been a priority for our state’s policymakers–every Texas Republican in Congress voted against extending food stamp benefits last fall. Because of them, Texans are facing even more impossible choices between going to bed hungry or providing other vital services for their families.
In response to the study, Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas said, “A hunger-free Texas is possible, but this study confirms that food banks can’t do it alone. …We are no longer just an emergency food network – our clients are facing chronic needs. To break this cycle, we must do more to address the causes of hunger.”
Feeding Texas recommends strengthening partnerships between public and private entities to better address hunger, and the many problems that contribute it. As Feeding Texas said in a statement, “Under this framework, food banks are increasingly distributing food resources alongside services designed to increase health and economic security.”
Cole further stated, “By linking our hunger relief efforts with other assistance, we know we can improve the health of these families and break the cycle of poverty. …But this approach requires that we strengthen our partnerships with both the private and public sectors.”
When the Texas Legislature convenes in 2015, Feeding Texas is planning to urge them to make addressing hunger a priority. Given Republicans’ past actions, it’s unlikely they’ll listen, but they should–because Texans shouldn’t be forced to choose which basic needs they are able to meet for them and their families.