Almost one out of five Texas households is at risk of hunger, according to a new report by the United States Department of Agriculture.
The USDA says 18.5 percent of Texans households experienced “low or very low food security” from 2009 to 2011. The Texas rate exceeds the national average by almost four percent and is the third highest rate of “food insecurity” in the country.
The USDA considers a family “food secure” if it has enough nutritious food to eat without having to rely on emergency food supplies, scavenging or stealing food. The USDA has used food insecurity as a measure since 2006 because it says “hunger is an individual-level physiological condition” which is more difficult to track.
“One of the things we’re most concerned about right now is that as the number of hungry Texans grows, Congress is actually debating a farm bill that could include significant cuts to programs like SNAP, or food stamps as it used to be called,” says Celia Cole with the Texas Food Bank Network. She describes the Supplemental Food Assistance Program is “the nation’s backbone of defense against hunger.”
Republicans and Democrats in Congress have been grappling with ways to reduce federal debt, which this week surpassed $16 billion for the first time. The Republican-led House has sought more aggressive spending cuts, and its version of the $ 1 billion farm bill would reduce food stamp benefits by $16.5 billion. The Democratic-led Senate’s version would cut food stamps by about $4.5 billion.
Should the House version of the farm bill be enacted, about 5,000 people in Travis County could lose food stamp benefits. More than 162,000 people in Travis are food insecure, according to this analysis by Feeding America. Food stamp recipients get an average of $4.30 per person per day, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
The farm bill expires at the end of the month. If Congress can’t reach an agreement by then – and it’s only in session for 11 days this month – the most likely next step is a temporary extension that would put off a decision until after the November election.