Texas second-hungriest state, report shows

A graph showing the percentage of residents in McLennan County who are eligible for nutrition programs. Texas was ranked No. 2 on a list of the nation’s hungriest states.Matt Hellman | Lariat Photo Editor
A graph showing the percentage of residents in McLennan County who are eligible for nutrition programs. Texas was ranked No. 2 on a list of the nation’s hungriest states.Matt Hellman | Lariat Photo Editor

By Ashley Yeaman

Texas ranks second in the nation with citizens suffering from food insecurity according to a report recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Those who experience food insecurity either live with hunger or are unable to adequately meet daily nutritional needs because of limited resources.

Four million individuals, or 18 percent of the population, experienced hunger or had to change their lifestyles in order to avoid being hungry in 2010.

In the face of this news, Baylor’s Texas Hunger Initiative, The Texas Food Bank Network and First Choice Power have released a detailed report that outlines food insecurity in all 254 counties of Texas, as well as plans to fight hunger at the local, state and national levels.

This is the first time the report has been released.

“Hunger by the Numbers: A Blueprint for Ending Hunger in Texas” includes a hunger scorecard for each county that helps individual communities work to solve food insecurity problems, according to Jeremy Everett, director of the Texas Hunger Initiative.

“It gives them a foundation to stand on,” Everett said. “It takes the mystery out of hunger for the community. So instead of wondering how many are hungry, what percentage are elderly, what percentage are young adults, what income levels are, now they have a better idea of what the state of the union is within their community.”

Barbara Anderson, executive director of the Texas Food Bank Network, a coalition of the 19 food banks in Texas, said that the dual nature of the report, detailing shortcomings but also solutions, makes it an invaluable resource.

“[The report] is not just publishing statistics, but rather a way for communities that actually solve these problems,” Anderson said. “It gives local communities the tools and a plan on how to use all resources available to them.”

Hunger in Texas has been a long-term problem, linked closely with poverty levels, according to Everett.

“Food insecurity ratings on an annual basis are really based on poverty statistics,” Everett said. “People are experiencing hunger because their income levels aren’t enough to pay the rent, pay for medication and other basics.”

With a nation struggling economically, it may seem difficult to get programs off the ground to combat hunger.

However, Everett said that information outlined in the released report illustrates that helping alleviate hunger could also stimulate the economy.

In McLennan County, 19 percent of citizens were food insecure in 2010.

The same year, $48 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was left unused in the county, Everett said.

SNAP benefits, known as food stamps, provide a way to get this money directly to families who are considered food insecure.

The money is invested back into the community when families use their benefits to purchase food, Everett said.

“For every dollar that comes in a community through SNAP, it is a $1.85 return for the economy,” Everett said.

“That means that if we were to sign those families up and pull in that $50 million for them, it would have a stimulus effect.”

Stimulating the economy through hunger relief has the potential to provide benefits for Mclennan County, specifically the city of Waco.

“Once it gets into the economy, it would have a stimulus effect of about $87 million in Waco’s economy,” Everett said.

“So that just has huge ramifications for the well-being of our city. That’s huge for us.”

That a smaller city such as Waco could have such a large amount of additional funds move into its economy is significant, Everett said.

“We need to invest in SNAP outreach jobs so we can start signing these families up for this program, because this program is good for our economy and it’s good for hungry people,” Everett said.

The SNAP program is just one of 13 programs that the report looks at that could positively affect Waco, Mclennan County and other cities and counties around the state.

The hunger report will be released annually to provide the most updated information to communities working to solve the problem of food insecurity.

“Hunger is not a symptom of poverty that we have to continually deal with,” Everett said.

“We already have adequate resources available to end hunger right now. The primary reason that we have hunger is because we haven’t matched those resources with the families who need it most. If we just utilize the tools we currently have, then we can take hunger off the map.”

Those interested in learning more about the Texas Hunger Initiative are encouraged to visit the Baylor school of social work website or https://www.baylor.edu/texashunger.