NTFB Legislative Priorities
The North Texas Food Bank continually works with local, state and federal officials to advance policies that address the complexities that can lead to hunger. Advocacy work is vital to combat not just the physical and mental health impacts of hunger, but the economic toll food insecurity has in our communities. According to Feeding Texas, it is estimated that hunger costs the Texas economy $44.2 billion annually.
We are grateful for the support of officials who agree that food is a basic human right and collaborate with us to find solutions. We look forward to continuing these relationships as we work with legislators during the 87th Texas State Legislature biennial session that commenced on January 12.
We will focus on the following three hunger-relief priorities that offer sensible and proven solutions to increase food security.
Protect the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) state funding for produce acquisition against current and future proposed budget cuts
Since 2001, the Surplus Agricultural Products Grant has supported a cost-effective strategy to fight hunger, improve health, and reduce food waste. Per the Governor’s request to trim state budgets, TDA has cut $1.98M to the grant for FY20-21, which would drastically reduce the purchasing power of food banks. The proposed 41% funding cut would prevent food banks from acquiring 19.8 million pounds of local produce, hurting both Texas farmers and low-income Texas families.
The role of food banks has never been more critical. While there was some emergency federal aid for hunger relief, many of these programs expired at the end of 2020. In fact, food banks anticipate receiving less federal funding in FY 2020-21 than they received prior to COVID-19, despite the growth in demand.
Food banks will be unable to meet the increased need in Texas due to COVID-19 without the continued support of the state through the Surplus Agriculture Products Grant. We will be advocating for the Texas Legislature to fully fund the grant to ensure food banks can continue to provide healthy produce to Texans during the pandemic.
Current Standing: SB1, the current base budget bill, includes a full funding of the Surplus Agriculture Products Grant. Continued advocacy is needed to ensure this base bill becomes the final budget.
Increase access to SNAP benefits for senior citizens
In 2018, Texas had the fifth-highest rate of senior food insecurity in the nation, with 11% of Texas seniors at risk for hunger. This figure has likely doubled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only does Texas have one of the highest rates of senior food insecurity, the state has low rates of senior enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Due to barriers in the application process, only half of the roughly 500,000 income-eligible Texas seniors are enrolled in SNAP. Several factors contribute to Texas’ low SNAP participation rate among seniors, including difficulties navigating the application process, limited mobility and access to technology, and lack of awareness or knowledge of the program.
Increasing access to SNAP can decrease the negative effects of food insecurity, allowing seniors to age in place with dignity and good health. Increased food security among seniors will also lower state healthcare costs.
We will be advocating for implementing a simplified application process and for allowing households composed solely of seniors and/or persons with a disability with no earned income to be certified for 36 months using a shortened application form with limited documentation requirements. We also propose using data matching with Medicaid to identify seniors that are eligible but not enrolled in SNAP. Data matching conducted by the state would enable community partners to better identify and assist seniors on Medicaid in applying for SNAP.
Current Standing: HB 1019 filed by Representative Meza (D); SB 224 filed by Senator Perry (R); HB 701 filed by Representative Walle (D)
Streamline the connection between SNAP & Work to provide more access and better outcomes to SNAP participants
SNAP requires most adults to work, and the relationship between SNAP and employment can be strengthened in many areas. We need to improve efficiency of the SNAP Employment & Training (E&T) program by increasing the focus on case management and opening the program to third-party partnerships, which would prompt additional federal funding.
We also will advocate for redefining “work” to include additional activities, such as vocational college programs and unpaid internships, which would allow more college students access to SNAP (per federal guidelines, college students are not allowed to receive SNAP with a few exceptions).
Finally, we propose changing the current vehicle asset test, which forces low-income families to choose between a reliable vehicle (needed for work) and accessing SNAP. The current vehicle asset limits are $15,000 for the first vehicle and $4,650 for any subsequent vehicle. Removing the test entirely is the simplest and most straightforward option. For reference, 43 states/U.S. territories have relaxed their vehicle asset limits, including 38 that have abolished them completely. Texas is among the five states that have relaxed the limit, but not fully abolished it. It is time for Texas to take this next step.
Current Standing: HB 1230 filed by Representative Ortega (D)
Advocacy work is an ongoing and a year-round effort. With your support, we can continue to help our North Texas neighbors experiencing food insecurity by addressing the underlying factors that impact hunger. Learn more about becoming a hunger advocate here.
Dr. Valerie Hawthorne is the Government Relations Director for the North Texas Food Bank.