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Food assistance applications piling up at understaffed Texas agency

There are 332,798 applications for food benefits waiting to be processed in Texas.

TEXAS, USA — When you think of the word snap, you might think snappy, as in quick. But a painfully slow snap is causing desperation and food insecurity for a North Texas single mother of two little girls -- ages 2 and 4.  

That woman contacted WFAA recently about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is administered by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The mother said her six months of assistance was running out, so back in May she applied to recertify (renew) her benefits for another six month period. 

But nearly two months after that, she says she is still waiting to hear back. 

The woman says she is working, but she just can’t make ends meet.

"I either pay my bills or feed my kids," she said. 

332,798 SNAP applications in Texas waiting to be processed

And this is being experienced by many Texans. 

The commission says it, “Recognizes the importance of SNAP benefits and (is) working to process cases as quickly as possible." 

But state officials acknowledge that the Texas HHS commission is understaffed and is struggling to keep up with increasing demand for food assistance they are seeing this year.

Texas had 332,798 SNAP applications waiting to be processed as of July 18, but officials say most of those requests (74%) are getting a determination within 30 days.

What to do if your SNAP benefits haven't been extended

Those are all new applications for food assistance, though. The case of the mother above, and of another woman who recently wrote in saying her benefits lapsed after she renewed them, are not new applications. 

The federal government in June gave Texas permission to extend SNAP benefits for six more months to anyone who is already in the program and is trying to renew in July or August, so that all those people wouldn’t be added into that already huge state backlog. 

RELATED: Texas SNAP benefits extended for July. Here's how you can apply

Those people are supposed to have their benefits extended through January and February of 2023, respectively. 

That said, the state contends there is no current backlog of people who are renewing their SNAP benefits. When WFAA pointed out that that doesn’t match what people were saying about trying to renew their benefits and remaining in limbo, they sent the following answer with options for those who are in this situation: 

“Applicants can check the status of their application/renewal, report changes and provide additional information on the YourTexasBenefits.com website and mobile app. The website and mobile app are accessible 24 hours/day, 7 days/week. People can contact the Office of the Ombudsman at 1-877-787-8999 if they have complaints or concerns. 

People also have a right to appeal if they think the action taken on their case is wrong. Individuals can request an appeal by calling 2-1-1 ( 1-877-541-7905) or by sending a letter to Texas Health and Human Services Commission, PO Box 149027, Austin, Texas 78714-9027 that includes their full name, case number, address, and phone number. 

In addition, families who are waiting on their application to be processed can contact 2-1-1 Texas Information and Referral Network (2-1-1 TIRN), Option 1 to receive a referral to available resources. 2-1-1 TIRN provides access to state and local health and human services programs. Families can also access the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s Community Partner, Feeding Texas, to locate local food bank information.”

Even with the SNAP program, hunger is a big problem in Texas 

It is estimated that nearly four million Texans are food insecure, and that 20% of Texas children experience hunger. If that describes your family or someone you know, there is likely help near you. 

  • No Kid Hungry has a meal map that plots places with meal availability, whether you are looking for breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, or dinner. You can also access it by texting the word ‘FOOD’ or ‘COMIDA’ to 304304.
  • To see eligibility requirements and apply for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, click here.
  • The Texas program for women, infants, and children (WIC) is a nutrition program for pregnant, breastfeeding women and families with children younger than 5. Click here to apply.
  • You can also find free groceries near you by clicking here and entering your ZIP code.
  • There are free meals available to children through the Texas Summer Meal Program. Here is more info.
  • In North Texas, you can find a map of food pantries here.

State of Texas hiring to handle food assistance applications

Meanwhile, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission says it is trying to staff up to handle the influx of SNAP applications. 

“In an effort to increase staffing levels, we have implemented workforce recruitment and retention initiatives including job fairs and pay increases. In March 2022, HHSC provided performance-based one-time merit payments to eligible employees. As part of HHSC retention efforts, newly hired eligibility advisors receive equity adjustment of 3.5% at 6 months and receive a career track (promotion) at 12 months with another 3.5% increase in pay. HHSC also implemented flexible schedule options for eligibility advisors. We will continue to explore opportunities to recruit and retain qualified staff to help serve Texans.”

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