Scrambling over the food-stamp program didn't come out of nowhere. Yet here in the state with some of the highest hunger rates and “food insecure” households in the nation, state officials continue to blame the national recession for their backlogged and error-riddled food-stamp system.
In a recent interview with the Austin American-Statesman, William Ludwig, a Dallas-based regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service dismissed the state defense.
“All states are feeling the pinch right now because of the economic recession, but I'm not aware of any state that is having it to the degree that Texas is," Ludwig said, adding that Texas' woes date back to the firing of thousands of state workers years back and privatization efforts.
Local hunger activists on the frontlines agree.
“They fired the workers that knew what they were doing and hired a lot of workers who don't know what they are doing,” said Eunise Sierra, of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for Consumers Welfare in San Antonio.
Former Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins was appointed by Texas Governor Rick Perry back in 2002. Hawkins fired thousands of state employees and outsourced key elements of the food stamp and other low-income assistance programs to Bermuda-based Accenture. While problems became apparent quickly, and the Accenture deal fell to other companies, Perry stood by Hawkins, who was able retired to applause in May â?? before federal fines were threatened and a class-action lawsuit put the issue in the nation's spotlight.
Here's the state's send-off:
While federal law requires food stamp applications to be processed in 30 (and in extreme cases of need, seven) days, the long wait times in Texas have become a source of shame for the state.
Applicants are having to wait three months just for an appointment, Sierra said. Then it takes another two months for their cases to be processed and relief delivered. One of Sierra's clients has been waiting a year for help.
In the meantime, some food banks are good for a couple days worth of food once a month; those that have family to go to, bounce from house to house; others are forced to turn to shop-lifting; utilities are cut off.
Sierra says she is not a political person, that she doesn't know who specifically can fix the problems, but she attends many of the San Antonio City Council meetings and raises her voice all the same. “If they open their mouths and open their hearts and talk to who they're supposed to and those people open their months, something can be done,” she said.
Now, if these food-stamp dollars were state dollars, we could starve our low-income residents in “peace.” However, these are 100-percent federal dollars, and that gives Washington an undisputed voice in the matter. While a federal judge dismissed a class-action lawsuit over the state's failings last week, Texas could still find itself fined by the feds or sanctioned by a loss of federal funds for its failings.
It's small wonder some of us can't remember that damned Texas Pledge.