Texas Food Banks Urge Legislators to Fight College Hunger, Improve Graduation Rates

The Feeding Texas network, made up of 21 food banks across the state, is calling on state legislators to address hunger on college campuses in a virtual day of advocacy.

The inability to afford basic needs is the number one reason cited by community college students for not completing their education. Even with tuition aid, 38% of students at two-year colleges and 29% of students at four-year universities experience hunger, according to a recent #RealCollege survey.

“We know that some college students in our area are skipping meals and only eating once a day because it’s difficult for them to afford food and pay for school,” said Dennis Cullinane, CEO of the East Texas Food Bank. “It’s difficult to pay attention in class when you are hungry.”

“College students should not have to choose between food and education,” said Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas. “The legislature must act to ensure students can access the food assistance they need to finish their degrees and go on to gainful employment.”

Sen. Royce West and Rep. Armando Walle filed companion bills in the Senate (SB557) and House (HB 1501) that would instruct the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to identify college degree programs that are vocational or technical in nature so that students enrolled in these programs can receive SNAP benefits.

“Our workforce depends on students graduating with the skills and training they need to succeed,” Sen. West said. “College tuition costs are rising, and with current inflation, so are the costs of housing, food, and other necessities. Eliminating hunger on Texas college campuses is critical to ensure our workforce remains strong and our future leaders thrive.”

Though federal policy severely restricts access to SNAP for college students, Congress made changes to guarantee food assistance for more students during the pandemic. However, this policy will expire when the Public Health Emergency ends in May, and thousands of students could lose their SNAP benefits at recertification.

“A simple change in policy would allow low-income students in vocational and technical degree programs to access SNAP while they pursue their educational goals,” Rep. Walle said. “Improving short-term food assistance would help thousands of Texas students along their path to economic self-sufficiency. This legislation is a win-win and makes good business sense for Texas.”

Texas Food Banks Ask Legislators to Implement Pre-Release SNAP Registration

TEXAS—The Feeding Texas network, made up of 21 food banks across the state, is calling on legislators to support hungry Texans leaving the criminal justice system today in a virtual day of advocacy.

At any given time, nearly 300,000 Texans are on parole or probation. Many of these Texans struggle to reintegrate back into society, and a large percentage are rearrested or reincarcerated within a few years of release.

“Many former inmates are food insecure when they are released and it’s difficult for them to find a job, and get back on their feet if they have to wait an extended period of time after they are released to be enrolled in SNAP,” said Dennis Cullinane, CEO of the East Texas Food Bank. “We believe that the punishment should not continue after release from incarceration and we support this bill which helps bring relief to their families and communities.

“Texans leaving the criminal justice system to reenter their communities with a set of complex needs and challenges, including food insecurity, unstable housing, and impediments to finding and retaining quality employment,” said Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas. “Early access to SNAP benefits ensures formerly incarcerated Texans have immediate resources for food so they can begin rebuilding their lives.”

Sen. Royce West and Rep. Jeff Leach filed companion bills in the Senate (SB 727) and House (HB 1743) that would support people exiting the criminal justice system by implementing pre-release registration for SNAP benefits. This is not an expansion of benefits, as these individuals are already eligible for SNAP and would still have to complete the normal application process.

“Ensuring access to food assistance upon release means that Texans leaving the criminal justice system can focus on finding a job and reuniting with their family,” Rep. Leach said. “This is a simple policy change that would support the reentry process, reduce recidivism, and could help lower incarceration costs for the state.

Research shows that people exiting the criminal justice system are especially vulnerable immediately after release. SNAP provides basic food assistance and supplements limited income for formerly incarcerated Texans who often have no means of purchasing food for themselves or their families.

Federal SNAP rules require that states process applications within 30 days of an individual filing the request. For people with zero resources for food, this is too long to wait. Moreover, recent staffing shortages at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission have pushed this processing time to 60 days.

“For Texans leaving the criminal justice system with no means to afford groceries, delays in processing their SNAP applications can lead to hunger and undermine their reentry,” Sen. West said. “Texas should join other states who have addressed this issue by allowing people who are incarcerated to apply for SNAP prior to their release.”

Texas Food Banks Call for Lawmakers to Update the SNAP Vehicle Asset Test

The Feeding Texas network, made up of 21 food banks across the state, is calling on state lawmakers to update the SNAP Vehicle Asset Test today in a virtual day of advocacy.

Eligibility for SNAP is primarily based on income and family size. Texas also chooses to use a Vehicle Asset Test, which places a limit on the value of the vehicles a family may own and still qualify for the program.

In the 26 counties served by the East Texas Food Bank, 500 East Texas households were denied SNAP in 2019, and that number grew to 2,399 East Texas households in 2022 due to the Vehicle Asset Test.

“This is a significant increase in denials in just a few years,” said Dennis Cullinane, CEO of the East Texas Food Bank. “More families are going without the food assistance they need because the Vehicle Asset Test has not kept up with the economy.”

“No family should lose their ability to put food on the table because of inflation in the car market,” said Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas. “Used cars have significantly increased because of the supply chain issues. As a result, many families that were previously approved for SNAP had their benefits taken away.”

Senator Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso) and Representative Ryan Guillen (R-Rio Grande City) filed companion bills in the Senate (SB 273) and House (HB 1287) that would index the SNAP Vehicle Asset Test to inflation to better reflect today’s car values.

Current limits are $15,000 for the first vehicle and $4,650 for any additional vehicle that a family owns. These limits have not been updated since 2001 for the primary car and 1974 for additional cars.

Texans everywhere are feeling the impact of inflation,” Rep. Guillen said. “Because SNAP eligibility is linked to vehicle value, hungry Texans are losing benefits at a time when they need them most. These vehicle limits were set over 20 years ago—they are outdated and out of touch with reality.”

In Texas, 11,615 households were denied SNAP due to the Vehicle Asset Test in 2019. In 2022, the total number of rejections grew to 54,740.

Because SNAP is a federal program, Texas will incur no additional costs for updating the policy.

“Updating Texas’ SNAP Vehicle Asset Test is not a handout, it is a hand-up for thousands of Texas families facing food insecurity who should not be punished for having the vehicles they need to lift themselves out of poverty and welfare,” Sen. Blanco said. “It is a simple solution that would help thousands of hungry families at no cost to the state.”

Texas Food Banks Urge Legislators to Increase Funding for Surplus Ag Grant

The Feeding Texas network, made up of 21 food banks across the state, is calling on state lawmakers to increase funding for the Surplus Agricultural Products Grant today.

With the cost of groceries rising, many Texans are turning to food banks for support. The loss of the increased pandemic SNAP benefits (known as “emergency allotments”) in March will lead to even greater need, with all SNAP households experiencing a minimum reduction of $95 a month in SNAP benefits.

“Texans everywhere are struggling with the rising cost of food, and as a result, more Texans are seeking emergency food from food banks,” said Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas. “More investment in the Surplus Ag Grant will help food banks meet the growing need in their communities.”

“The East Texas Food Bank (ETFB) continues to see a record number of our neighbors needing help and increasing the funding to the Surplus Ag Grant will be critical in providing enough resources to meet our goal of providing 32 million nutritious meals by 2025,” said Dennis Cullinane, ETFB CEO.  “During the pandemic in fiscal year 2020, we served 91,500 households and 25 million meals. In fiscal year 2022, we served 117,300 households and over 27 million meals.”

Since 2001, the Surplus Ag Grant has supported a cost-effective strategy to fight hunger in Texas. The program is a partnership between Feeding Texas and the Texas Department of Agriculture.

Food banks use funding from the program to obtain fresh produce that is unsellable due to imperfections or market conditions, and 100% of program funds go to farmers and transportation providers to offset the cost of harvesting, storage, packaging, and freight. Farmers are eligible for a tax deduction for their donation.

“In addition to feeding hungry Texans, the funds provided through the Surplus Ag Grant offset losses for Texas growers and mitigate the impact of food waste on the environment,” Cole said. “The program is a win-win-win for Texas.”

Texas economist Ray Perryman estimates that every $1 invested in the Surplus Ag program yields $3.27 in healthcare and education savings for Texas.

“Smart policy choices and investments like the Surplus Ag Grant can help prevent hunger for today, while boosting our state’s economic competitiveness and resilience over time,” Cole said.

HHSC Announces Federal Approval for Replacement SNAP Benefits Due to Winter Storm

AUSTIN – The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) today announced it has received federal approval to allow Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to apply for replacement benefits for food lost or destroyed due to recent severe winter weather by dialing 2-1-1.

“Prolonged localized power outages may have spoiled food for Texas families across our state during last week’s ice storm,” said Governor Greg Abbott. “I thank HHSC for ensuring Texans impacted by this winter weather are able to apply for replacement SNAP benefits so that they can keep fresh, healthy food on the table.”

“We hope that the replacement SNAP benefits will help Texas families who may have been impacted by the recent winter weather storm. These benefits will help Texans replace healthy and nutritious food that was lost due to power outages,” said Texas HHS Access and Eligibility Services Deputy Executive Commissioner Wayne Salter.

SNAP recipients who have had food lost or destroyed due to the winter storm last week need to apply for replacement food benefits for regular SNAP allotments and SNAP emergency allotments. SNAP recipients in the counties below have until Feb. 28, 2023, to request a benefit replacement:

Anderson, Austin, Bandera, Bastrop, Bell, Bexar, Blanco, Brazoria, Brooks, Burleson, Burnet, Caldwell, Cameron, Cherokee, Coke, Collin, Comal, Concho, Coryell, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Erath, Falls, Fannin, Fort Bend, Franklin, Freestone, Gillespie, Harris, Hays, Henderson, Hidalgo, Hill, Hopkins, Hunt, Irion, Johnson, Kaufman, Kendall, Kerr, Kimble, Lamar, Lee, Leon, Limestone, Llano, Mason, McLennan, Milam, Montgomery, Navarro, Parker, Rains, Red River, Robertson, Rockwall, Smith, Sterling, Tarrant, Titus, Travis, Van Zandt, Waller, Wichita, Williamson, and Wood.

SNAP recipients not living in the listed counties above must request benefit replacement within 10 days of discovering their food was lost or destroyed due to the winter storm.

SNAP clients are encouraged to request their replacement food benefits by dialing 2-1-1 and selecting option 2. Recipients can also download Form H1855 on the HHSC website. Completed forms should be mailed to Texas Health and Human Services; P.O. Box 149027; Austin, TX; 78714-9027, or faxed to 1-877-447-2839. Replacement funds should be placed on Lone Star Cards within two business days of HHSC receiving the request.

SNAP is a federal program administered by HHSC that provides food assistance to approximately 1.6 million eligible, low-income families and individuals in Texas. More information is available at hhs.texas.gov. Texas residents can dial 2-1-1 to learn about programs and services.