Fixing Texas Food Stamps

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The other day I pointed to a story about the problems with Texas Food Stamps program, one that US Senate hopeful John Sharp actually got into shape in the 90s. I wanted to post this note from Kelly Fero who is advising Sharp's campaign. It plays into the current context of what is going on but also how Texas got here from there.

I noticed you mused rhetorically yesterday about “who derailed [John Sharp's] food stamp reforms after he introduced the Lone Star Card.”

Eliminating the paper food stamp coupons – and the waste, fraud, and abuse that went along with them – was first proposed by Sharp in his 1991 “Breaking the Mold” performance review report to Gov. Ann Richards.  The Legislature passed the reforms, Sharp lobbied Washington to get the necessary waivers, and then made sure Al Gore included a national version in his National Performance Review (1993).  The electronic card has now been adopted by all 50 states, and virtually eliminated all of the fraud, waste and abuse associated with the old paper coupons (which were used as a second currency in the criminal underground).

The whole point was to safeguard a successful program for feeding hungry kids by showing taxpayers that government was willing to be good stewards of their tax dollars.  What a difference a decade makes.

In 2003, Arlene Wohlgemuth and the Craddick-led Texas Legislature began (in the same bill that famously stripped hundreds of thousands of eligible kids of their CHIP benefits) a consolidation of all the state's health and human services agencies.  Pushed by the state's new leadership, the so-called reforms had at their heart a privatization scheme that was going to make things like the food stamp program even more efficient.  With George W. Bush in the White House, Texas had a willing ally to approve this privatization scheme.

The goal, as always, was “to run government more like a business.”  Unfortunately, the business they had in mind was Enron.  And now Texas is almost dead-last in the effectiveness of its food stamp system – just ahead of Guam.

With regard to the current problems, the Texas Democratic Congressional delegation has signed the following letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging the USDA to take immediate action to improve Texas Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) performance. Letter below the fold.  Dear Secretary Vilsack:                                                              

As you know, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides an important safety net for needy individuals and families, including hundreds of thousands of our constituents. Since 2005, our delegation has expressed our concerns to your predecessor about how Texas mishandles the Food Stamp Program.  Today, we write to express our grave concern over reports that Texas is failing to meet the requirements of the Food Stamp Act, related to the timely processing of SNAP applications. Needless processing delays are hurting our most vulnerable constituents, draining the resources of our local food banks, and slowing Texas' economic recovery.  These delays are the product of indifference and the State's costly, failed experiment with privatization.

The State's failure to meet federal SNAP timeliness standards cannot be attributed to the economic downturn or increasing requests for food assistance. The State has failed to meet application processing standards for almost four years.  In September 2009, only 58.6 percent of SNAP applications were processed timely, delaying benefits to over 43,000 Texas families. The Austin-American Statesman recently reported that in many of the local SNAP offices in our districts, families routinely wait anywhere from 89 to 150 days for an interview.    

We are aware of the advance warning letter that USDA's Southwest Regional Administrator, William Ludwig, sent the State last month. We thank you for your intervention on behalf of our neediest constituents. We also support your recommendations for reducing the workload of SNAP eligibility staff and improving program access.  But much more must be done to bring the State into compliance with federal law. Notably, Mr. Ludwig's letter fails to acknowledge the shortage of trained eligibility workers, which is the most important problem facing SNAP in Texas. It is our understanding that the State employs 1,000 fewer eligibility workers than it did a decade ago, but they are serving twice the number of SNAP recipients.

We respectfully request additional, immediate action by USDA to improve Texas SNAP performance. Without the strongest possible enforcement from the federal government, we are concerned that the State will not take the necessary steps to improve SNAP administration. In fact, despite the warning letter from your regional office, Governor Rick Perry and Texas' Legislative Budget Board recently refused to approve the Heath and Human Service Commission's request for 649 additional staff, approving only 250 new workers.

In these tough economic times, SNAP plays a vital role in increasing food security and ensuring that needy Americans can afford a nutritious diet. We respectfully ask that you inform us of the actions USDA takes. We would appreciate you promptly providing us with a timeline for additional actions to enforce the Food Stamp Act in Texas and to correct these serious deficiencies in SNAP administration.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lloyd Doggett

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson

Rep. Ruben Hinojosa

Rep. Al Green

Rep. Gene Green

Rep. Ciro Rodriguez

Rep. Chet Edwards

Rep. Silvestre Reyes

Rep. Solomon Ortiz

Rep. Henry Cuellar

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez

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Former Publisher & Owner of the Burnt Orange Report. Political Thinker, Digital Explorer, and Time Traveler.

2 Comments

  1. The feds should sue
    the living bejesus out of the state until it fixes the distribution problem. That or block all federal funding until the problem is rectified. I'd rather see this done rather than for the Feds to cut off the FS program entirely.  Those in need will suffer if this is done.   It is disgraceful that Texas cannot efficiently distribute food stamps, which by the way, is all federal dollars.  

    Knowing how much the Texas GOP worships money, if huge fines or lawsuits are involved I betcha the Texas GOP would solve the problem in a NY minute.  

    • Has it occurred to Democrats to make political hay of this?
      Only in the Republican Party is incompetence in administering welfare programs considered adherence to deeply held principles.

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