AUSTIN — Texas has the worst performing food stamp program in the nation, says the federal director who oversees the project designed to help desperate people get nutritious meals.
Texas ranks last among the 50 states and U.S. territories in processing food stamp applications and also does a poor job getting eligible people to apply, said Kevin Concannon, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
H.E.B., Randalls and other grocery stores are missing out on nearly $1 billion a year in food sales because Texas does not even come close to the national average in enrolling eligible people for food assistance, Concannon said.
“If I were a native son sitting down here, I would be very upset that my state was not the leader that it is capable of being,” Concannon said during an Austin visit.
Texas does not have enough workers to process food stamp applications and is one of only three states that fingerprints applicants for the food assistance. Texas also imposes a cumbersome assets test that is time consuming, complicated and impedes the effort to help desperate and hungry people, Concannon said.
“It bars Texans who deserve to get help from getting that help,” he said.
Texas should look at others states for ideas on how to efficiently process food applications, Concannon said.
Getting state leaders and lawmakers to eliminate the finger printing requirement and assets test will require Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs “to persuade, cajole and convince a whole bunch of people,” Concannon said. “And we are very much in his corner.”
The federal government provided Texans with about $4 billon worth of food stamps last year. About 3.1 million Texans qualified for food stamps last month, including 387,764 in Harris County.
Federal law requires food stamp applications to be processed within seven days for emergency cases and within 30 days for others. The state routinely fails to meet the standard. For the last reporting period, 43 percent of the applications were not processed on time in November.
The long delay dissuades other eligible people from applying for food assistance, Concannon said.
Texas enrolls only 55 percent of people eligible for food assistance. Texas would have to enroll another 600,000 to meet the national average of a 66 percent enrollment rate. Texas grocery stores would see close to an extra $1 billion pouring into their cash registers, he said.
“This is a proven way to get food into the hands of hungry people. It also would have an impact on the state economy,” Concannon said.