TEXAS VIEW: Expand SNAP to alleviate hungerTHE POINT: Food banks across the country have been especially hard hit during the pandemic.

Expansion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food assistance program for families would go a long way toward alleviating the strain on food banks.
It’s a harsh reality that many families must rely on free food distribution programs even during the best of economic times. This is definitely not the best of times. Reduced business operations and staggering unemployment numbers have lengthened food lines across the country, especially in San Antonio, where poverty is endemic. Families who have lived paycheck to paycheck, juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet, are finding their cupboards bare.
Many who relied on food stamps to supplement their food budgets are now relying on them for all their food needs — and it’s difficult to stretch those dollars to the end of the month. Remember, it’s supposed to be a supplement, not provide every meal.
Expansion of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps, would help end some of this food insecurity.
A 15 percent increase in the monthly allotment would have a tremendous impact on alleviating some of that pressure, according to San Antonio Food Bank President and CEO Eric Cooper, who met with us during a recent virtual Editorial Board meeting to discuss hunger in San Antonio.
SNAP offers temporary food assistance to eligible families through debit cards that can be used to purchase groceries. During fiscal 2020, the average SNAP household received about $246 a month in food assistance. The average per person was about $125 per month, which comes out to about $1.39 per person, per meal.
Since the start of the pandemic there has been a significant increase in SNAP participation across the country. Enrollment went from about 37 million to 43 million just between February and May, according to a study of U.S. Department of Agriculture data by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Increasing the direct allotment would allow the money to flow directly into the hands of those in need and cut out the middle man. Food banks are labor-intensive operations. The food must be procured, warehoused, and distributed into the hands and kitchens of recipients.
Donors and volunteers have stepped up in a big way during the pandemic, but soliciting donations and recruiting volunteers is a never-ending process for food bank administrators.
The San Antonio Food Bank, which serves a 16-county region, has been fortunate on many fronts. Despite fears of donor weariness from the continued pleas for help, individual and corporate donations continue to flow in, including an undisclosed sum from billionaire MacKenzie Scott. The Express-News has donated $25,000 to the Food Bank this year.
The good news is volunteers keep answering the call.
Overnight, the San Antonio Food Bank went from feeding 60,000 people a week to 120,000. The numbers have not let up, and Cooper does not anticipate a shortening of the line.
Those numbers are not unique to our region. Since the start of the pandemic, food insecurity has increased across the country. The number doubled overall and tripled in households with children, according to a June report by the Northwestern Institute for Policy Research.
The Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, conducted Oct. 28-Nov. 22, found adults in households with children were more likely to report they didn’t get enough to eat. In Texas, 20 percent of households with children reported food insecurity during that survey period. Food insecurity in households with just adults was 14 percent.
This is not the time to establish new programs to feed the hungry. Improving on what we already have is a better strategy. Boost SNAP as it will alleviate hunger and boost the economy.