Nearly 2 million households in Texas are considered “food insecure” by the US Department of Agriculture. On Wednesday, the USDA released a study of how many American households either cannot easily afford or have limited access to food. That study found that 14 percent of Texas households were considered food insecure through 2017. That compares to a national average of just below 12 percent.
J.C. Dwyer, chief strategy officer at Austin-based hunger advocacy group Feeding Texas, says food insecurity happens when families need to choose between food and other expenses. And that’s a choice 1.7 million Texas households are making.
“Obviously, that’s too high,” Dwyer says.
According to data from 2016 compiled by Feeding America, Northeast Texas is one of the most food-insecure regions of the state. On average, between 15 and 20 percent of households in the region are considered food insecure. When factoring in children, those numbers notably increase. In Delta County, 20 percent of households overall reported issues with access to food in 2016. But 30 percent of children in Delta County were considered food insecure.
The irony of how prevalent hunger is in such an agricultural region as Northeast Texas is not lost on Dwyer.
“We live in a country and in a state that has ample amounts of food and agriculture and yet we’re still seeing food insecurity because people are living in poverty and they’re suffering from unemployment, or facing other barriers to having a budget that’s in sync with their needs,” he says.
In a statement, Feeding Texas CEO Celia Cole said the importance of keeping the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, intact in the pending 2018 Farm Bill is paramount.
Dwyer says programs like SNAP are known to work, but are on the chopping block because some feel the better way out of poverty is to work harder.
“ We agree that a job is the best way to get yourself out of poverty,” he says. “The problem is that most of these folks are already working, and working hard. They’re just not working in jobs that have wages that allow them to escape poverty.”
The Senate & House Joint Conference Committee began deliberating Wednesday on how to reconcile the differences between the two chambers’ versions of the Farm Bill. The Senate version reauthorizes SNAP while the House version seeks to largely dismantle it.