TPR hosts town hall on hunger in food-poor SA

Robert J. Pohl

Hunger is a global, national, regional and local problem. Nearly half of the world -- over 3 billion people -- lives on less than $2.50 a day. Nationally, 49 million people are "food insecure" -- meaning, these people cannot consistently get enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life. Texas shamefully leads the nation as the state with the most food insecure households -- more than 8 million households. According to Feeding America, Texas also shamefully leads the nation with the highest number of hungry children, which is 1.5 million. In Bexar County alone, about 1 in 4 children do not get enough food.

Hunger was the topic discussed at St. Mary''s University on 8 December. Texas Public Radio hosted a town hall meeting with a panel that included Celia Hagert, a senior analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP); Eric Cooper, the executive director of the San Antonio Food Bank (SAFB); Patti Radle, co-founder of Inner City Development (ICD) and former City Council member from District 5; and Steve Saldana, president of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of San Antonio, Inc. About 45 people were in attendance.

The palliative yet necessary services that ICD, SAFB and Catholic Charities provide are just that, palliative. Members of the panel reiterated this. Hagert said, "In order to bring about systemic change, we need to focus on policy change." Cooper agreed and said that the most productive use of time involves advocating for policy change.

SAFB provided $55 million worth of food in 2008 and serves 16 counties; it is the largest food bank in Texas and provides emergency food to 25,000 people each week. To get involved or to learn about pertinent legislation, visit SAFB. Cooper dispelled the myth that there''s any liability when someone donates food. He cited the Texas Good Faith Donor Act of 1981.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps, is considered the first line of defense, Hagert said. The program began in 1969. Any business may sign up with SNAP.

Federal law requires that an application for SNAP gets processed within 30 days; however, Hagert said, "The state of Texas is systematically violating that right." Hagert said that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission files complaints on behalf of anyone who has waited 30 days without a response.

Only 55 percent of those who are eligible for food assistance get enrolled, Hagert said. According to 2009 preliminary data from SNAP, more than 3 million Texans receive food assistance each month. Reflecting the aforementioned Texas hunger facts, Texas is the state that has the highest number of people receiving food assistance.

Radle said that she knows people who have waited 30, 60 or even 90 days for food assistance. This really concerns here because like the SAFB, her nonprofit is also a crisis center -- meaning, her center provides only several days worth of food.

With respect to Texas social services, Saldana said, "With 50 states, we are going to be ranked 48 or lower."

An attorney from Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, a nonprofit that provides free civil and criminal legal services, encourages people who are struggling with SNAP to call TRLA at 1-866-757-1570.

Other resources for those wanting to get involved include Trident United Way, a 24/7 hotline for health and human services. Dial 211. Cooper said, "211 is a phenomenal service." Some examples of services are support for teens, volunteer information and referrals to food pantries.

"There''s no excuse for hunger. We need to come together as citizens and demand this from our representatives," Cooper said.

Keep in mind that hunger is indicative of other social ills. In most instances, poverty, Radle said. To learn about rising income inequality and about the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans who possess $2 trillion more than the bottom 90 percent combined, go here and here.

Other pertinent links:

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