How food stamps work And how they don’t. by Wendy Heiges, photo by Joel Salcido
“SNAP saved us.” Sarah O’Brien uses seeds supplied by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, to grow food for her family. More than 280,000 Central Texans are enrolled in SNAP—though many more are eligible. For everyone who is enrolled, SNAP provides a vital nutrition safety net for people struggling against food insecurity, In the O’Brien’s case, SNAP supplements their diet and budget as they cope with serious health problems. Sarah’s medical issues left her bedridden until recently, and though her partner Wayne’s lung cancer is in remission, he’s disabled and needs further surgery. Neither has health insurance, and affording medication is a struggle. And yet Sarah never gives in. She says, “The smallest victories in those garden beds represent the tenacity of life.”
After approval, the SNAP user receives a Lone Star Card to purchase groceries at the cash register. Pre-loaded with benefits on a monthly basis, it works much like a plastic debit card. Sarah sometimes feels using her Lone Star Card to buy a few organic items provokes skepticism about her needs. But not everyone can have a garden. Many SNAP users live in urban and rural “food deserts” with few stores stocking fresh produce and healthy food; they turn to corner stores where nutritious food is limited or nonexistent. Families resort to buying cheap, nutrient-deficient food high in fat and calories, which contributes to high rates of adult and child obesity. Many people simply go without. Unfortunately, more than 250,000 eligible Central Texans don’t receive SNAP benefits, according to Capital Area Food Bank. Further, federal and state budget cuts threaten the program’s capacity to feed more hungry Texans in a state with one of the highest rates of child hunger and poverty.
“The smallest victories in those garden beds represent the tenacity of life.”
SNAP is broken The federal government pays 100 percent of SNAP benefits and shares administrative costs with states. In Texas, SNAP is administered by the Health and Human Services Commission, which determines eligibility based on family size, income and other criteria. The application process can require multiple visits to a state office, often a challenge for older adults and people without transportation. And Texas’ finger-imaging requirement, which finally was repealed this past legislative session, deterred people who feared being stigmatized by a procedure they associate with criminals. 28
You can help LEARN MORE by calling the 2-1-1 Helpline, a resource for SNAP information and referrals specific to Central Texas communities. DONATE to Capital Area Food Bank and Catholic Charities, which offer community outreach programs and application assistance. CALL your federal and state legislators to urge protection of SNAP’s funding. SUPPORT local food pantries with donations and volunteering. GivingCity