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Food stamps fail

News item: Budget board denies request for more food stamps workers.

The Legislative Budget Board has denied a request from the Health and Human Services Commission to hire about 650 state workers to relieve the state’s food stamp enrollment system, which is struggling with backlogs and errors.

The additional workers could help address both of those problems, now-retired Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins told the budget board and the staff of Gov. Rick Perry in an August letter.

This week was the deadline for the budget board or the governor to decide on the request; if they did nothing, the request would be automatically approved.

[…]

Celia Hagert of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low- and middle-income Texans, said that waiting to hire the workers isn’t fair to families waiting for food stamps.

“We have hundreds of thousands of Texans needing help affording food and caring for their families,” Hagert said. “The clock has run out for these families.”

News item: Federal officials: Texas could lose food stamp funds if problems aren’t fixed.

Federal officials have warned Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs that unless Texas fixes serious problems with its food stamp enrollment system, it could lose federal funds.

“The current status of (food stamp) administration in Texas is unacceptable and actions must be taken immediately,” says the letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, which administers the food stamp program.

Specifically, the letter says, the state is not complying with federal law on processing applications on time. Applications must be processed within 30 days, but the state is failing to process more than a third of applications by the deadline, according to state data. Processing in the Dallas and Houston areas is especially slow, and in Austin, it’s better than the rest of the state.

Celia Hagert of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low- and middle-income Texans, called the letter “a warning sterner than we’ve ever seen before” from federal officials.

Great timing by the LBB, eh? Reading this, I’m struck by the thought that the feds don’t really have any leverage to make Texas do the right thing. Yeah, sure, they can withhold funds, but all that does is further injure the people who are already being hurt by Texas’ manifest failures. And pardon me for saying so, but taking care of the needy isn’t exactly an issue for GOP primary voters, so it’s not like there’s a political incentive for Governor Perry to clean things up, or for Senator Hutchison to inveigh against him. Maybe, given that Texas is violating the law here, there needs to be some kind of legal accountability for it. If the ultimate remedy were the garnishment of Tom Suehs’ wages, or tossing him in jail, till a satisfactory remediation plan were being executed, I bet that would get a swift response. But turning off the federal spigot? I hope it works, but color me skeptical.

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5 Comments

  1. JD says:

    In my humble opinion:

    The food stamp system was written at a time when most families avoided having to apply for assistance, now many families are addicted to benefits and are multi-generational.

    The provisions allow for excessive luxuries, ease of fraud and complete dependence.

    The provisions do not require the same accountability for the recipient/applicant as for the ‘worker’.

    The staff was cut by nearly 2/3s just before two major hurricanes and has never been replenished.

    The new computer system is linear and malfunctions on a regular basis thus causing further backlogs.

    Many who have suddenly had the ‘rug yanked from under them’ have to be denied because of the guidlines written so very long ago. Those same guidelines allow for $800 cable & pay per view while proclaiming the inability to ‘afford’ food.

    Many of the administrative staff have never worked a case and/or have not seen the ‘front lines’.

    This state of malfunction cannot be blamed on any one person or entity, regardless of political affiliation. It must be blamed on everyone from funding to regional decision making as either lack of information flow or lack of action. Everyone with a hand in policy making is at fault to a degree. Pulling the financial plug will be no more productive than dumping good money after bad into a system designed to fail.

  2. Milehimama says:

    I just returned from the food stamp office. My husband was laid off. We have $0 income until the end of Oct; his unemployment benefits are $200 more per month than our rent.

    I won’t even find out IF I can get food stamps until 58 days from now.

    We are not mulitgeneration food stamp/public assistance recipients. We just need help to feed our children until one of us can find employment. Telling me they won’t even look at my application for almost 60 days violates the law – and might cause my children to actually starve. In modern America.

    Oh, and there aren’t many luxuries or $800 pay per view cable bills around here.

  3. […] fixed. The big question is, does this issue really matter to our current state leaders? As Kuff states, it really doesn’t play in the GOP primary for governor. Great timing by the LBB, eh? Reading […]

  4. […] question about the need for more employees to be hired now. This is what happens when there’s no credible threat of consequences for the officials who fail to do what they need to do. Lisa Falkenberg has […]

  5. […] Sens. Judith Zaffirini and Tommy Williams will be keeping an eye on the food stamps situation. Zaffirini said in an interview that she and Williams will work with Health and […]