AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – The Feeding Texas network, an association including the High Plains Food Bank and others across the state, said it is calling for federal action in the wake of the drastic rise in food insecurity in the last year, with Texas taking place as the second-most food insecure state in the nation.
According to the recently released annual study from the US Department of Agriculture measuring food security in the country, Texas was shown to have the second-highest rate of food insecurity at 15.5%, more than 4% higher than the US average. In Texas, more than 4.6 million people were reported to be at risk for hunger – meaning nearly one in six households experience food insecurity.
The report also noted that food insecurity increased significantly across the US from 2021 to 2022, with the number of people experiencing food insecurity rising to 44 million, with 13 million children among them. That was an increase, said the USDA, of 31% overall and an increase of 44% for children, the highest rate and number since 2014 and the largest one-year increase since 2008.
“Behind these sobering statistics are our neighbors struggling to put food on the table, pay rent, and keep the lights on,” said Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas, the state association of food banks. “These staggering numbers reflect the growing need food banks are seeing in communities across our state. The end of pandemic-era relief efforts, inflation and the high cost of food is making it harder for Texans to afford basic necessities.”
According to the report, more households in the US were facing serious economic hardship to the point of having to ration food and disrupt normal eating patterns than in either 2021 or 2020, with a rise to 6.8 million households.
Behind the drastic spike, according to Cole as well as food analysts and the Food Research and Action Center, was the end of assistance efforts including more accessible SNAP benefits, universal free school lunches, and other aid programs that benefitted families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This underscores how the unwinding of the pandemic interventions and the rising costs of food has taken hold,” said Geri Henchy, director of nutrition policy for the Food Research and Action Center, to the Associated Press. “It’s like a horrible storm for families.”
The Feeding Texas Network said in its response to the USDA report that it is calling for action from both state and federal officials to address the food insecurity spike, including:
- Resources and flexibility to fix delays in processing SNAP applications, which have plagued the Texas Health and Human Services Commission for months and meant thousands of Texans have had to wait more than 100 days to be approved for food assistance. The delays have already been subject to calls for federal corrective action due to the state not complying with the federal 30-day processing requirement, and Feeding Texas said both the HHSC and food banks will need additional help to prevent more people from going hungry.
- A strong Farm Bill with increased investment in SNAP and The Emergency Food Assistance Program. Feeding Texas noted that SNAP is “the backbone” of hunger relief in the US and TEFAP is “the cornerstone of emergency food assistance, accounting for over 20% of our network’s food supply.” The 2023 Farm Bill, as reported previously on MyHighPlains.com, was indefinitely delayed due in part to the weeks-long tumult on a federal level with the absence of a Speaker of the House, and the 2018 Farm Bill – which keeps programs such as SNAP and TEFAP funded – was allowed to expire at the end of September.
- Summer EBT implementation in 2024: The state of Texas will need to affirm its participation by Jan. 1, 2024, in the new federal summer feeding program that will allow low-income families with children to receive additional benefits during the summer months, when childhood hunger typically spikes due to the loss of school meals.
The USDA findings as well as the call to action from Feeding Texas come after numerous reports from food banks and charitable groups in the last year that said they were surprised by the higher-than-expected need headed into the 2022 holiday season. In the Amarillo and Texas Panhandle area, High Plains Food Bank also reported shortages of food, money and volunteers throughout 2021 and 2022.
According to High Plains Food Bank Executive Director Zack Wilson, they have consistently served an average of 10,000 households in 2023.
This year Wilson shared that have helped families and seniors receiving assistance for the first time.
“Seniors, a lot being on fixed incomes, and seeing price increases from utilities or even prescriptions, and just as well as food, you know, are not being able to make ends meet, regardless of where they reside in the Panhandle,” said Wilson.
As the holiday season approaches the HPFB is hopeful that the community will donate monetarily and with food donations, as well as participate in Panhandle Gives and other initiatives.
“We need help to help bring food in the door,” said Wilson. “You know it’s only due to the support that we receive, that we’re able to continue. Purchasing food is something we can do very efficiently $1 equals about 13 meals that we can provide as of right now.”
“It is unacceptable that hunger is so deep and persistent in a nation as wealthy as ours. We have the tools and resources to end hunger, but our vision of a hunger-free Texas can only be realized through policy change and collective action from the public, private and charitable food sectors,” said Cole. “Food banks alone cannot end hunger.”