PHARR, Texas – The Food Bank of the Rio Grandee Valley is joining with other food banks across Texas to support legislation to reform SNAP.
SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
In a conversation on Zoom, Food Bank RGV CEO Stuart Haniff said Senate Bill 224, authored by Republican state Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock, and House Bill 701, authored by state Rep. Armando Walle of Houston, would simplify the SNAP application and recertification process for Texas seniors.
“We really want our folks in Texas to know and our elected leaders to know that Texas seniors are experiencing extremely high rates of hunger. I would say unprecedented rates of hunger. We need to help them access critical, nutritional benefits,” Haniff said.
Haniff said the legislation would also help people with disabilities.
“I came from Southern California where I was with the Food Bank there. I did not know this, I wonder how many Texans know, that Texas is the fifth highest state for senior food insecurity the the United States,” Haniff said.
“We think of Texas as being so vast, with all these resources, and Winter Texans and all these other things, but Texas is fifth highest for food insecurity.”
Haniff said before the coronavirus pandemic, 11 percent of Texas seniors were at risk of going hungry or not knowing where their next meal is coming from. “This percentage has likely doubled due to the pandemic. And that is a conservative estimate.”
Haniff said he wants legislators from the Valley to know that only 50 percent of eligible Texas seniors are enrolled in the SNAP program. “So, enrolling them and making it easier to access their benefits is key.”
Several factors contribute to Texas’ low SNAP participation rate among seniors, Haniff said. These include difficulties navigating a lengthy online application process.
“I am technologically challenged and I am not a senior. So for somebody that does not have that computer-savvy background, it can be a bit of a maze, it can be a bit like dropping a coin into a well,” Haniff said.
“There is limited mobility and access to technology. They may not even have the resources. They may have to go to a library and have transportation issues. And there is really a lack of clarity and knowledge and awareness of the program. They don’t really understand how it works. Or how it could work for them.”
In addition to discussing SNAP in the Zoom conversation, Haniff also spoke about how the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley has coped during the coronavirus pandemic. He said his organization is “dealing with a daily disaster of hunger.” He said while many people rightly focus on children going without food, Food Bank RGV has also emphasized seniors and veterans.
“They are a core part of our audience and the people that we serve. But now with the pandemic that daily disaster of hunger has escalated, has surged into an exponential increase in demand and need.”
Haniff added: “The fact that 50 percent of seniors that are eligible in Texas are not even registered for SNAP, and the other 50 percent that are active have such difficulty navigating and accessing benefits and understanding their questions, we really need to make it user friendly and user-accessible and to open it up to a wider audience of people in need of support.”
Here is the Zoom conversation with Stuart Haniff:
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