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Texas food bank lines near pandemic highs. Here’s what organizations say they need.

 Volunteers with the Central Texas Food Bank load a cardboard box of food into a waiting vehicle.
Julia Reihs
/
KUT
Volunteers with the Central Texas Food Bank load a cardboard box of food into a waiting vehicle.

For people with limited incomes, surging food prices are hitting especially hard. A network of food banks says they need more support from Texas lawmakers.

Prices at the grocery store are up about 13% over last year. It’s even worse when it comes to specific products such as eggs – which are up about 30%.

“Texans everywhere are struggling with the rising cost of food. But for people living on a limited income, it’s become that much harder for them to stretch their dollars,” said Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas, the largest network of food banks in the state

Cole said those food banks are seeing more people in lines right now – in some cases, with lines as long as they were during the pandemic.

Cole said while she recognizes Texas lawmakers have “bigger things on their radar” as they head into the 2023 state legislative session, she also believes the pandemic made food insecurity more visible.

“I think everybody understands now that while hunger is a problem that we can’t afford to ignore, it’s certainly a problem that we can afford to solve,” she said.

To that end, Feeding Texas has released a list of five priorities for the upcoming legislative session. Top among them, Cole said, is an increase in the Surplus Agricultural Products Grant.

“That helps us buy surplus produce that can’t be sold,” Cole said. “It’s unsellable due to market conditions or imperfections. Surplus AG Grant helps us capture, rescue that produce and get it to the tables of hungry families. So we’ve asked the Legislature to double funding for that grant from $10 million to $20 million.”

Their other proposals have to do with SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, colloquially known as food stamps. To be eligible for SNAP, families must not exceed a certain level of assets – and that includes the value of vehicles owned. Cole said the values set on vehicles needs to be raised significantly.

“Those values haven’t been updated in 20 years for the first car [owned by a family], and for additional cars, the value is set at a level that was established back in 1973,” Cole said. “So this bill would index those values to inflation to make sure people aren’t forced to choose between a reliable car and getting food assistance when they need it.”

Cole said other SNAP priorities include maintaining “a pandemic-era policy that allows certain college students enrolled in vocational or technical training programs to be eligible for SNAP,” as well as creating “a pre-registration process for people leaving the criminal justice system.”

People leaving the criminal justice system are already eligible for SNAP, but Cole said pre-registering them “would help make sure they get connected when they get out.”

Finally, Feeding Texas wants lawmakers to create a pilot program to “allow Medicaid to provide reimbursement for Food RX or food-as-medicine programs like Medically Tailored Meals.”

Cole said all Texans can help support their local food banks by donating money and time and by telling lawmakers that supporting food security should be priority.

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Copyright 2022 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.