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Unclaimed SNAP Money Could Curb Hunger, Stimulate Economy

July 14, 2010

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What we used to know as the food stamp program is now called SNAP--the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It's money the government allocates to the states to help assist families living in the vicinity of the poverty line. But a great deal of that money goes unclaimed for a number of reasons, most notably the fact that a lot of people are unaware of their eligibility.

Jeremy Everett is the director of the Texas Hunger Initiative at Baylor, an agency working to eradicate food insecurity by 2015. He says this lack of awareness comes from a number of areas, including a misnomer about who is eligible. It's not only for the unemployed or very poor, and the stereotype of the deadbeat doesn't fit. People living within 185% of the poverty line are eligible, meaning working families can take advantage of the program that is designed to help them purchase more nutritious food. Texans may recognize this program as The Lone Star Card. This certainly falls under Everett's sphere of interest at the Texas Hunger Initiative. But it goes beyond that. When eligible residents make use of the funds, it has a major impact on the local economy.

Alexis Weaver, director of community development at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, worked with Everett and is spearheading the issue for the chamber. She serves on the local Food Planning Association, an official group working with the Texas Hunger Initiative recognized by the state. She is working on an 18 month campaign designed to, among other things, raise awareness and claim the funds for the greater Waco area.

Again, it may seem strange for a local chamber of commerce to be looking to drive up numbers of people on government assistance. There's sometimes a stigma there that the groups are jointly looking to eradicate. They're also looking to make the process of dealing with the government red tape to get the Lone Star Card more manageable, and have made strides already.

Weaver says the the Food Planning Association of which the chamber and the hunger initiative are a part needs input from all aspects of the community. In the coming months, they're laying the foundation and doing the groundwork to market the availability of these funds to those eligible, a tangible benefit to families each month. But they're asking residents to imagine the broader community impact beyond the 50 million dollars left on the table.

Jeremy Everett explains what he has seen happen in low-income neighborhoods in other cities when the government funds are used and applies it to East Waco. It may seem a long way off for a grocery in East Waco, but that could be a benefit down the line. In the meantime, the chamber, the city, and the Texas Hunger Initiative are working for both humanitarian and economic benefits--eradicating hunger, while lifting the bottom line. For KWBU news, I'm Derek Smith.



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