OPINION COLUMNS

New study brings local hunger issue into focus

By Brian Knox | Published Sunday, September 25, 2011

As we’ve continued to work on our “Feeding Wise” series of stories looking at local hunger issues, we’ve had a lot of numbers to digest.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

The latest set of numbers came a couple of weeks ago with the release of the Texas Hunger Report, a joint effort by Baylor University’s Texas Hunger Initiative, The Texas Food Bank Network and First Choice Power’s Food First program. The report’s full title is “Hunger by the Numbers: A Blueprint for Ending Hunger in Texas.” The 508-page report includes a hunger scorecard for each of the 254 counties in Texas. It also offered possible solutions to ending hunger in Texas.

I’m sure we will refer to more of the statistics in a future Feeding Wise story, but one item that jumped out at me was the information on SNAP recipients in the county. SNAP was formerly known as the food stamp program.

In September of 2011, 5,552 Wise County residents received benefits from the SNAP program. Of that total, more than half, 2,926, were below the age of 18. Total food benefit payments were $663,488.

In order to get a perspective on how this number has changed over the years, I pulled up statistics on the Texas Health and Human Service Commission website for September of 2005. That month, 2,892 local residents received benefits from the program. Just like this year’s numbers, the majority were received by children under the age of 18.

In six years, the number of people receiving these benefits has nearly doubled.

There are at least a couple of different ways to look at that number. The first thought is that the problem has gotten a lot worse in six years. That may be true, but it might also be true that more eligible people are using this resource now than six years ago.

Still, the hunger study says that only half of the Texans who are eligible for SNAP currently receive benefits.

For Wise County, that means $5,916,869 in SNAP benefits are being left “on the table” in Washington each year, according to the study. That is costing the county $10,591,196 in “potential economic activity,” the study says.

So why don’t more people who qualify for SNAP use the resource? “Stigma, a complex application process and lack of awareness are the primary reasons why only half of Texans who are eligible for SNAP currently receive benefits,” the report states.

And while all of those numbers include people who qualify for SNAP benefits, it doesn’t take into account everyone who is considered “food insecure.” That number, according to the study, is 9,130 residents, or 16 percent of the population.

So what resources do these 9,130 use to pay for meals? The study also breaks that down: their own money accounts for 56 percent, SNAP accounts for 13 percent, school lunch programs account for 3 percent, WIC accounts for 2 percent, local charities account for 1.3 percent, school breakfast accounts for 1 percent and U.S. Department of Agriculture accounts for 0.5 of a percent. The remaining 24 percent is considered the “gap.”

“Even after combining their own money with assistance, these residents face a 24-percent gap between their resources and the USDA standard (for a moderately-priced, nutritious diet), equal to $12,316,509 annually,” the study says.

And it’s that gap, the study says, that may lead to poor nutrition or food insecurity.

So the question for our county, as well as the state, is how do we close that gap? That’s the challenge we now face.

To read the study, visit wcmess.com/hunger.

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