OP-ED from the office of Senator Carlos Uresti

January 14, 2008
CONTACT: 512-463-0119

Having Food on the Table

by Senator Carlos I. Uresti

H-E-B’s tagline, “Here Everything’s Better,” applies to much more than just groceries. The San Antonio-based supermarket was recently awarded the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Golden Grocer Award, for outstanding achievement in meeting the needs of its low-income customers; an award, I am delighted to say, for which I nominated them. H-E-B was selected on the basis of its long-standing commitment to addressing hunger, providing nutrition education to customers, and helping people apply for food stamps in partnership with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Like H-E-B, food stamps are a vital part of Texas’ communities as one in four Texas children participates in the Food Stamp Program. According to the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA), roughly half of all Americans will rely on food stamps at some point in their lives when they fall on hard times.

Unfortunately, due to cuts in 1996, the purchasing power of food stamps has eroded. Food stamp recipients now get just $1 per meal per day, which increases the risk that families will either run out of food before the end of the month or force them to buy cheaper, typically less healthy food.

The USDA estimates that 16% of Texas families – more than 3 million Texans – are either hungry or at risk for hunger. Additionally, Texas has the second-highest rate of families at risk for hunger in the nation. This is not just an individual problem, it is a Texas problem as hunger costs the state more than $9 billion a year in charity, treatment of diet-related illnesses, and lower economic productivity.

Fortunately, Congress will soon finalize legislation that has the potential to strengthen the Food Stamp Program. In the coming month, Congress will review both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill and vote one version into law.

There is consensus between the House and Senate on the need to improve the Food Stamp Program. Both bills include many key nutrition provisions that will help the millions of needy Texans at risk for hunger—they include improvements in the value of food stamp benefits, improvements in outdated asset limits, help for families with high child care costs, increased benefits to the elderly and disabled, and will provide new funding for food banks.

However, there is one crucial difference between the two bills — virtually all of the new investments the Senate bill makes would disappear after five years, while the House bill changes would be permanent. The final Farm Bill legislation must ensure that all nutrition improvements are permanent and that enough money is available to fund them. The final legislation should also adopt low-cost program improvements that are unique to the Senate bill, including crucial provisions that would simplify overly harsh and complicated time limits on unemployed childless workers, and require states to justify the cost-benefit of fingerprinting food stamp applicants.

Like me, H-E-B recognizes the importance of food stamps. Take some time out of your day to write or phone your congressional representative and let them know that you’d like them to pass the strongest version of the Farm Bill possible. With your help, we can make Texas better.

Carlos I. Uresti is the Senator for State Senate District 19, a 23 county area stretching along the U.S.-Mexico border, from San Antonio to El Paso County.