Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, families across the country have received emergency payments through the Supplemental Food Assistance Program, better known as SNAP and often referred to as “food stamps.”
In practice, this benefit expansion is relatively modest, basically ensuring that SNAP recipients receive at least $95 per month. But in a state as big as Texas, many people have become dependent on this money—money that will soon run out.
Libby Campbell, CEO of West Texas Food Bank, joined Texas Standard to talk about the state of SNAP benefits in Texas. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:
Texas Standard: Does it look like an unmarried adult is eligible for SNAP benefits and can only earn what they have, about $23,000 a year? And even then, the monthly allowance itself is about $280?
Libby Campbell: Yes, give or take change. There are some things that qualify. You know, we love to talk about the asset verification required to qualify for SNAP. Here in Texas, we’re one of the few states left in the union that actually still has a vehicle check when you’re called to apply for SNAP benefits. What we often see in our food bank is that we are actually making more pounds at our small rural food bank here in West Texas. We cover about 19 counties. This is equivalent to 34,000 square miles of West Texas. And we have all kinds of nutritional problems that you usually think of. We have urban famine, however, in Midland-Odessa. We have a rural famine that extends to the furthest part of our region, which we cover. In addition, we are also dealing with border issues currently in our service area. But there’s one thing that we’ve really noticed with regards to the amount of pounds we’re handing out – you know, food banks, we measure everything in pounds, so it’s confusing sometimes – our food bank before the pandemic was bringing in about £6 million a year. This year we are aiming for perhaps £13 million to £14 million to be distributed among these 19 districts.
I want to focus on this annual additional coronavirus funding that is expiring. What does this mean for SNAP recipients, and how closely do you monitor it at West Texas Food Bank?
We’re watching this very closely because it definitely affects the number of neighbors we serve within our lines. You know, in terms of SNAP coronavirus funding for food banks and recipients, we’ve definitely seen a lot of help from USDA and Texas. And again I want to say “thank you” again and again. But these things are starting to stop. Your food banks have to spend much more to deliver supplies to the neighbors we serve, and our lines are growing.
Now clear something up for me. More than 3 million Texans are eligible for SNAP benefits, according to last month’s data, but apparently only a million and a half allocations. Can everyone who is eligible for SNAP be able to enroll in the program, or are there other barriers?
They absolutely can’t. For us, I can speak to our food bank in our 19 counties. In Trans Pecos, most of our southern part of our territory – if you know about Big Bend, you know that there is no broadband or Wi-Fi. The Texas Health and Human Services Service (HHSC) has been forced to close some offices, so people have to either travel long distances to register. Long calls to talk to someone from HHSC. No, our food bank got lucky. We have three social workers on staff who help people – help to register them – but they travel to 19 counties. From Odessa to the Presidio is really close six or seven hours drive. So I think access is definitely causing the problem. As well as waiting times at HHSC to help people enroll in SNAP.
The Legislative Assembly is in session again. Are there specific laws and policies that food banks, including the West Texas Food Bank, are trying to put pressure on legislators?
I think we’re definitely trying to talk about vehicle inspections. I think at the moment, I think it’s important for us that we might have to go back to it a bit. But I also think that the SNAP program has a big economic multiplier effect in rural communities. I mean, you’re empowering those who go out and buy food from their local stores that are nearby. And then from there, it gives these stores the ability to schedule more hours for people to be able to work, so they can help pay for their kids and fill up their cars with gas and everything that comes with it. Thus, helping those in need through SNAP has a huge economic multiplier effect.
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