Our longstanding food stamp problems continue to cost the state of Texas millions of dollars.
Federal officials have fined Texas $3.96 million for errors in issuing food stamp benefits, according to a letter sent to House Speaker Joe Straus.
The penalty is for exceeding 105 percent of the national average rate of payment errors — overpayments or underpayments — for the past two federal budget years, according to the letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Texas plans to appeal the fine, said Geoff Wool, a spokesman for the state Health and Human Services Commission. He said that the number of food stamp recipients in Texas spiked after Hurricane Ike in 2008, increasing 26 percent in the year that followed.
It’s true that Hurricane Ike made a bad situation worse. But it was a bad situation to begin with because of the miserable failure privatization extravaganza that started in 2005 until its merciful death less than two years later. In the meantime, of course, the state had seen thousands of experienced HHSC employees leave the agency, which is the proximate cause of the staff shortages that led to the initial lawsuit over food stamp application processing delays. Ike was a factor, but without that screwed up experiment, HHSC would have been in much better shape to handle the increase in caseload that Ike helped cause. Rick Perry and his Republican cronies took something that was working, and they broke it. And the cost of that – the human cost, not just the dollars and cents cost – keeps mounting. And just as a reminder, one of the guys who helped screw things up in the first place has now been hired to un-screw them.
Speaking of that lawsuit from last year, here’s a brief update.
In December, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid sued the commission in state district court in Travis County over the backlog. The group expanded its lawsuit in June, adding more plaintiffs and arguing that the entire food stamp system is purposely dissuading people from participating.
But Wool said, “We feel that because this is a federal program governed by federal rules, the state court is limited in its ability to provide relief.” The state is seeking to get the case dismissed, arguing in a June 22 court filing that food stamp processing deadlines aren’t mandatory.
“That,” said Cynthia Martinez of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, “is about as ridiculous as it sounds. This is an attempt for them to avoid accountability by making the argument that the king can do no wrong because he is the king.”
Business as usual, I’m afraid. Hair Balls has more.