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.”
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.