El Pasoans Fighting Hunger CEO Susan Goodell is going to El Paso County Commissioners Court Monday to ask for help in keeping the food bank in operation and providing food to thousands of El Pasoans a day.
The situation is becoming dire because the food bank has lost most of its local volunteers, AmeriCorps fellows and 90 Texas National Guard troops who have filled the gap in El Paso.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has pulled the National Guard out of food banks across the state and reassigned them to border duty.
“We’re still operating under the belief that the National Guard will be totally gone by Sept. 26,” said Goodell, who has had to close two of the food bank’s three satellite distribution centers because of a lack of support.
In her three years as CEO of El Pasoans Fighting Hunger, Goodell took the food bank from being one of the smaller ones in the country to the nation’s third largest behind Los Angeles and Houston.
She and the food bank staff did that by procuring food, much of it donated, from around the country and distributing 32 million pounds of food to El Pasoans in 2019, 140 million pounds in 2020 and 81 million pounds in the first six months of this year.
That’s more than 253 million pounds in all and enough food for more than 210 million meals.
“The county gave the food bank $850,000 in CARES Act funding in 2020,” Goodell said. “We have not decided yet what we’ll ask for on Monday. The judge invited us to give a presentation at Commissioners Court.”
But any proposal to give the food bank more money from the county’s $160 million pool of American Rescue Plan Act funds related to COVID is likely to meet with opposition from County Commissioner David Stout – and not for the first time.
“Over the last year and a half, the county has given the food bank over $1 million,” Stout said. “We really need to invest in getting people signed up for food stamps, or SNAP.”
The name for the federal food stamp program is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which provides recipients with a debit card that can be used at authorized retail food stores.
Stout believes that instead of giving money to El Pasoans Fighting Hunger the county should be funding SNAP coordinators to sign people up for SNAP benefits.
“We leave more than $6 million in SNAP benefits on the table every month in El Paso,” Stout said. “We just got an announcement from the federal government saying that they’re going to permanently increase the amount of food stamps that people can get.
“That just means if we continue going the way we are now, we’re going to be leaving millions and millions more dollars on the table.”
Stout said SNAP coordinators are generally able to sign up 600 families a year for benefits.
“If we had spent $500,000 on 10 SNAP staff coordinators, we would have been able to sign up about 6,000 families in SNAP in the last year, and that’s half of the families that the food bank is serving right now,” he said.
The addition of thousands of SNAP recipients would also be a boon for El Paso’s economy, he said, because it would inject millions of SNAP dollars into the local economy, especially grocery stores.
“I’ve talked about it till I’m blue in the face about this and have gotten no traction at all from anybody on the Commissioners Court,” Stout said.
Goodell agrees that funding more SNAP coordinators is a good idea and noted that the food bank has the biggest SNAP coordinator program in the county with 3 1/2 coordinators.
“I will be the absolute last person to say that that is not a valuable and important thing to do, but it is not one or the other,” she said.
The big problem, she said, is that SNAP benefits only provide the average recipient with enough food to last 10 days a month. She added that the vast majority of people who use the food bank are probably already getting SNAP benefits, which are particularly hard to qualify for in the Texas SNAP program.
“We are reaching out to those folks every single day with our SNAP coordinators to help applicants with the 20-page document that has to be filled out in order for them to apply,” she said. “But if you make a mistake, you’re excluded.
“And if you don’t have a certain document, you’re excluded. The ways that our society has found to exclude people from getting SNAP benefits is appalling. For example, if someone has a car that’s worth $15,000, they are ineligible today.
“It gets worse. If your spouse has a car that’s worth $5,000, even if your car isn’t worth that much, you’re excluded from getting food stamps.”
The list of reasons people get excluded from SNAP benefits or kicked off the program goes on and on, she said, which means that while many of the people using the food bank every month are in SNAP, many others have failed to qualify or been removed from the SNAP rolls.
“We also see a lot of military here at the food bank, and it’s partially because their wages are so very low,” she said, adding there are even Army officers in the line because they’re transferred to Fort Bliss and arrive without much money for food for their families.
While Goodell doesn’t know what will happen Monday when she appears before Commissioners Court, she said, “I believe the county commissioners have a great deal of compassion for the people we serve, and if they’re willing to support the food bank, there are multiple ways to do it.”
El Paso Inc. made several unsuccessful attempts to reach El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, who placed the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger item on Monday’s Commissioners Court agenda.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at email@example.com or call (915) 630-6622.