Food stamp system changed to help TX food banks

March 1, 2010 7:38:36 AM PST
A federal waiver that took effect Monday will allow food banks in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth to handle food stamp applications directly. The updated system is part of an effort toward quicker processing of applications, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

Food bank authorities will have access to state computers to make sure eligible applicants are not already getting food assistance. Interviews that food bank employees conduct with applicants will no longer have to be repeated by state workers.

"I'm excited about this project," Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs said. "The food banks have done a wonderful job helping us connect with Texas families for years, and this is a natural next step for both of us."

Employees at the Health and Human Services Commission still will be responsible for determining whether the applicants are eligible.

"It is a very big deal," said Eric Cooper, executive director of the San Antonio Food Bank. "We see this as one of the most significant strides forward in creating a public-private partnership to assist low-income families."

A successful program could expand the project beyond the four food banks.

"That's the pressure we are feeling. Not just the eyes of Texas are upon us but truly the eyes of the United States," Cooper said.

Texas has lagged in getting food stamp applicantions processed within the 30 days required under federal law.

The state faced a 42,000 application backlog for food stamps last fall, said Stephanie Goodman, spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission, which has added employees to help cut the lag time. The figure has dropped to about 16,400, with 90 percent of it in Dallas and Houston, she said.