Food stamps, food poisoning, and the charity of cannibalism

Greg Harman

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Albert Gomez was born in San Antonio nearly 50 years ago. He worked as a maintenance man, warehouse worker, and truck driver before going on disability with bipolar depression and other ailments. He is one of thousands in the state that have been backlogged by State Health Services Department for consideration of food-stamp benefits. During the gap in coverage, he received a box of food from a local food bank he blames for a bout of food poisoning that put him out of commission for several days last month. In fact, he says he was finishing up some food-stamp paperwork when he had to be taken to the nearby hospital.

Being from the inside is what makes him the perfect spokesperson for those still lost in the system, he said. “I'm a client. I've seen everything that is to be seen under the umbrella. They make you feel like a criminal when you're there with your arm out, your hand out, for assistance. I don't think anybody should be degraded or humiliated because you're asking for help.”

Recently, Gomez has shown up at San Antonio City Council meetings, spoken with radio reporters, and been interviewed by USA Today, he said, all to get the message out that the Texas food-stamp system has to be fixed.

As if there were any question on that point. Texas has been chastised by the feds for making applicants wait for months at a time for benefits and is being sued by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid â?? a suit that continues despite the fact that state workers rushed to approve applications for the families suing the day after the complaint hit the courts.

In San Antonio, Gomez praises the work of The Advocates for Social Services, a group that started 31 years ago.

TASS Manager Jason Mata said when it was founded, services were comprehensive: foods stamps, food pantry, utility assistance, social security help, all were in a day's work. But over the past 10 years, the group has increasingly focused on food stamps.

“We feel that food stamps is the number one way to combat, or eradicate, hunger, because it enables families to supplement their food budget,” Mata said. “It frees up money for housing issues, to pay utilities. And most of the time, the money's already available.”

Mata said problems have grown since Governor Rick Perry's privatization binge.

Now the state's auditor has cleared his plate to take on the food-stamp failure. You know he means business when he references guns. “In Texas, you can get a hunting or fishing license in a day,” Keel said. “It shouldn't take 45 or 90 days to process food stamp applications.”

Mata says that recently things have improved for the clients he works with. That complaints are now responded to within 48 hours. “People need this support so they can go and find jobs, so they can go to school, and get a higher education and get a better job,” said Mata.

Of course, Keel could be on to something, too. If the hook-and-bullet crowd is so efficient, maybe we need to petition the feds to let the state use this sticky stamp money to subsidize rifles, scopes, and weekend harvesting getaways. It's a message I can actually envision Perry delivering with predictable references to “God's natural bounty,” “self-sufficiency,” and a “family.” But during years this natural bounty should fail, like good Christians we'll all understand if the havenots are forced to cull from the ranks of the haves to make ends meet.

Let them eat skunk, anyone?


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