By: Nick Swartsell
DALLAS — Cuts to food stamp assistance that the House recently approved would affect hundreds of thousands of Texans, advocates for the poor say. Republicans who pushed for the bill said it would save $39 billion over 10 years, a necessary cut with the government running deep deficits. But the savings could hurt 270,000 Texans as eligibility rules are tightened, said Celia Cole, chief executive for the Texas Food Bank Network.
About 450,000 people in Dallas County receive help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, including 300,000 children, U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, said during debate on the bill. “Cutting this program would be devastating to millions of Americans,” she said. One group the bill focuses on is working-age people without children or disabilities. The bill would eliminate waivers for a three-month limit on benefits for able-bodied adults without kids who do not work at least 20 hours a week. In Texas, that group constitutes about 8 percent of food stamp recipients, according to the food bank network.
Marty Jennings, 57, of Houston, called access to the program, known as SNAP, “a blessing.” He recently lost his job in retail and has used the program to help feed himself and his mother, who is blind, until he finds another job. He said that work is difficult to find.“I’m the kind of person who wants to pull their weight and be independent,” he said. “Like anything else, there can be bad apples [in the food stamp system], but Congress has to realize that would be devastating to me.”
Others, including families with children, could lose benefits as well. Currently, under what is called categorical eligibility, households can receive food assistance if they’re enrolled in other programs like the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides help with utility bills.
The bill, which faces tough prospects in the Senate, would end categorical eligibility, making 1.8 million people nationally ineligible for food assistance, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The impact could be huge in Texas, said critics, pointing to studies showing 1 in 4 households with children has difficulty affording enough food. Many rely on SNAP benefits they receive through categorical eligibility. Republicans say those taken off SNAP rolls by elimination of categorical eligibility could reapply for the nutrition program specifically.
Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, said the goal isn’t to deny help to those in need. “But where you’re able-bodied and on food stamps, you have to be willing to work,” he said.