Food Security 2020: Crisis and Sustainability

The North Texas Food Bank recently hosted a virtual meeting on Food Security: Crisis and Sustainability to discuss and answer questions from NTFB supporters. Director of Government Relations, Dr. Valerie Hawthorne provided an in depth look at how NTFB is handling the Covid-19 crisis, and how we plan to continue to meet the needs of our community.

As Valerie explained, before Covid-19 we were already on an upward trend. The Food Bank was distributing more and more pounds as the need was growing. But the moment Covid-19 hit, the need skyrocketed. Valerie first talked about our past experience with crisis response, and how crisis affects those we serve. Then, she discussed what the future looks like for food security in North Texas, and reminded us that economic downturn takes a long time to improve food security rates.

At the end of her presentation, Valerie fielded questions from attendees.

Q&A

Q: How many food deserts have we identified in our 13-county service area?

The largest food desert is of course in Southern Dallas. This food desert is known nationally, it is one of the largest in the entire nation. Food deserts come from high population and low access. When you think of food deserts it’s easy to think of rural communites, but they’re not because there is a low population of folks. We work with our cities and our counties to get access to food in food deserts. Although grocery stores seem like the solution, time and time again we have seen that this model doesn’t actually work because it is an economic problem. So folks need to be able to have the resources to support a grocery store, and grocery stores have very low margins. So it becomes a business case of, how can we get grocery retailers in there in order to address hunger, but the neighborhood has to be able to financially support that grocery store as well. Grocery stores are businesses, they are not charities, they are there to make money and they are responsible to their shareholders. It’s an interesting concept, and know that we do work particularly closely with the City of Dallas and the Office of Economic Developement to look at those food deserts and how to increase access in them.

Q: Can you explain a little bit more about SNAP as it relates to getting children who are learning virtually food?

Let’s look at SNAP in two buckets for this question. The first bucket will be waivers that are put in place that allow data matching. So if a family qualifiies for SNAP, they automatically qualify for free and reduced lunch. This happens in communities where there is a very high number of applicants for this program, DISD being one of the biggest ones. That data matching allows the school to reach out to the parents and say, your family qualifies for SNAP right now, so did you know that all of the food here at school is free to your child? That waiver is something that we’re looking to put in permanently. At the Texas State Legislature, it’s the call of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The second bucket is probably what you’re talking about, P-EBT or Pandemic EBT. Community eligible schools, like DISD, was eligible to recieve $285 per child given to them on what looks like a food stamp card. You just had to go online, we pushed it out a lot trying to get as many families signed up as possible. That $285 was meant to replace the meals that kids did not get in March, April, May, and parts of June. The good news is that in the recent budget that just went through Congress, they went ahead and put through a second allocation in that P-EBT budget. So that will allow kids from September-December that are in community eligible schools, or their families qualify for SNAP to receive another allotment of money to help cover the cost of school meals since many of them are learning virtually. Advocates will be working really hard to access those families and say, you are eligible for this money. I myslef, and my family are very blessed. My two kids were eligible for it and I went ahead and I took it so I could use those funds and then distribute it out to our local food pantry because it’s important to infuse those federal dollars into your local economy otherwise they just disapear. So that’s helping support those employees at the grocery store as well as keep grocery stores active in areas of high need.