The state’s miserable job of processing food stamp applicants is allowing millions of eligible Texans to go hungry. State officials should recognize this as a crisis and act accordingly.
Of all the measures that define the problem, one jumps out as particularly distressing: In most parts of Texas, applicants must wait several weeks before they get time with an eligibility worker. North Texas’ record is by far the worst, with an average wait of more than 80 days just for an interview.
The Health and Human Services Commission is overwhelmed. The agency is hobbled by high turnover, inexperience and fewer eligibility workers than it had 10 years ago. And this comes at a time of a mushrooming caseload due to recession.
If pressure isn’t relieved, things will further deteriorate.
The commission made a good call in giving more recipients automatic renewal status, dispensing with a six-month follow-up interview. That will save the workforce valuable time.
Another time saver would be emergency suspension of the review now required of an applicant’s savings and the value of the family vehicle. Most states now have no such test, and the denial rate for assets is extremely low. Health and Human Services Commissioner Thomas Suehs and lawmakers should agree on at least temporary suspension, along with a study of abuse rates.
The agency is now working to fill a backlog of vacancies and 250 positions newly authorized by legislative leaders. We hope the agency does that efficiently and then finds state leaders in a receptive, creative mood on its standing request for even more workers.
The state now helps about 2.8 million needy people put food on the table. But the number of eligible Texans may be another 2.8 million – greater than the population of Dallas County.