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Texas Has Second Highest Rate of Households Struggling to Eat

Capital Area Food Bank cans
Photo by Katie Hayes for KUT News
Children collect cans for the Capital Area Food Bank. A new USDA report today says Texas has the second rate of households struggling to put food on the table.

A new report today by the United States Department of Agriculture found Texas has the second lowest rate of "household food security" in the United States.  Household food security is defined as a family having "access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members."

The annual report surveyed households across all 50 states in 2009. The prevalence of food insecurity in Texas was 17.4 percent, according to the report, an increase of 1.1 percent from 2008.  Only Arkansas, at 17.7 percent, saw a higher rate in 2009.

"It's extremely high," JC Dwyer, State Policy Director at Texas Food Bank Network, told KUT News. "To me, this means that Texas needs to do a better job in investing in programs we know work. There are a bunch of nutrition programs out there, like the SNAP program, and other programs we can use to make that percentage go down. This is not the time to walk away from those investments."

But with the state facing a budget gap of as much as $25 billion, how will programs that help hungry people avoid being cut or scaled back?

Dwyer says the federal food stamp program is a good example of something that requires the state only to pay a fraction of the actual cost. Food stamps are funded entirely by the federal government, but the state is responsible for administering the program.

"For that we need infrastructure. We need staff. We need phones. We need computers. All these things the Health and Human Services Commission has asked for in their budget request, and we hope that the legislature will grant them that because they really need the money to make that program work for Texas," Dwyer said.

Texas has struggled to maintain that infrastucture, and earlier this year was blasted by a federal official as having the worst performing food stamp program in the nation.

On the national level, the USDA report found food insecurity was relatively stable in 2009, after a sharp increase in 2008.

"Prior to release of this report, other federal agencies had already provided a picture of difficult economic conditions during 2009," lead author of the USDA report Mark Nord told reporters during a news conference today. "What USDA's food security report adds is information to the extent to which those challenging economic conditions resulted in material hardship, in this case, food hardship."

You can find the full report, a summary of the report, and audio of today's news conference on the USDA's website.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.