Written by Phil Cerroni
By Phil Cerroni
Most of the Irving news lately has been about the economic growth and progress in our city, but the poor accompany the rich – 8.8 percent of Irving residents live below the poverty limit.
These numbers recently took on greater significance in light of Congress’ proposed cutes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). For those who do not know, SNAP is the new name for the food stamps program. Many of the families living in Irving will be severely affected by these cuts.
“A $4.5 billion cut to SNAP is proposed by a Senate bill. A House Agricultural Committee bill proposes a $16 billion cut, and 300,000 people would lose SNAP in Texas. Those are the two extremes,” said Kim Aaron, vice president of policy, programs, and research at the North Texas Food Bank. “The other thing’s that disconcerting is that the majority of the people receiving SNAP are families with small children and seniors. Twenty-thousand seniors in Dallas County aren’t collecting food stamps although they are eligible.”
Over the years, poverty has been becoming less an inner city problem and more a suburban one, with poverty slowly seeping away from the cities.
“Over these past many, many years, there’s been incremental increase in the number of clients served by Irving Cares,” said Irving Cares CEO Teddie Story. “It goes up 10 percent to 12 percent every year.”
If proposed SNAP cuts go though, local food pantries that are already working at capacity may be strained to the breaking point. Last year, Irving Cares served, on average, 700 families a month. This past June they served 900 families, and the increase volume is starting to take its toll. The North Texas Food Bank is in a similar situation.
“We provide access to over 100,000 meals a day,” Aaron said. “The demand is estimated at 300,000 a day. We aren’t meeting the demand for food in the area we serve right now. The simple and set truth is that there is more demand for food than we as a food bank have the ability to meet.
Story elaborated on the hardships facing families and charities.
“More and more people are having more trouble finding jobs. They’re either completely unemployed, or their hours are reduced, or maybe there’re just unexpected expenses that happen,” she said. “When you see all the press about reducing SNAP benefits, it’s going to take an average of $90 of benefits from each family. Ninety dollars a month out of your grocery bill, how would that effect you?”
“The thing that is really hurting us is that this donated food is staying about the same. When you look at the number of families we served, it’s going up. Last year there was a 30 percent increase.”
One thing that can greatly help the mission of local food pantries is awareness of their needs.
“We don’t need corn and green beans,” Story said. “What we need is peanut butter and jelly and cereal and soup – the things we spend money buying.”
Another way to contribute is to give money with which food pantries can buy food at greatly discounted rates.
“Because of our purchasing methods, we can acquire food through the North Texas Food Bank and that costs twenty-eight cents a pound where retail costs about $3 a pound. We buy as much as we can through them, but sometimes they don’t have what we need, or they don’t have enough quantity. So if we can convince people to make cash gifts, we can use the money to buy food cheaper than people can retail.”
Aaron put this issue into perspective with the other difficulties facing our country today.
“People who receive food stamps usually have other issues they’re struggling with. Eating is fundamental,” Aaron said. “If you don’t address the food problem, you can’t address the other problems. Taking one burden off of their plate and allowing them to focus on other things. If we can help them solve this one it puts them in a much better decision to help them start attacking the others.”
Whether or not SNAP benefits are cut, charities are quickly becoming unable to support the growing number of impoverished families in the city, and it is going to be up to the rest of us to justify the city’s place as one of the best destinations for families to move.