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Progress on food stamps

Good news.

With hundreds of new workers on board, Texas has dramatically improved its speed and accuracy processing food stamp applications, Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs [told] state lawmakers [last week].

But he’ll also tell the joint gathering of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the House-Senate panel overseeing the eligibility system that he needs more resources, including more workers.

“Yes, we’ve turned it around,” Suehs told the American-Statesman on Tuesday. But he added: “We still have a long way to go to maintain it there. This thing is still in a precarious situation.”

In August, Texas processed 93.5 percent of applications within the required 30 days, compared with 58.6 percent in September 2009, according to the commission.


In the past year, the commission has added 864 workers to determine eligibility and enroll Texans for food stamps and Medicaid, bringing to 8,380 the number of staffers. The commission has also revamped worker training and stationed workers in office lobbies to handle certain questions so that not everyone has to wait in line.

“There’s no doubt that things have significantly improved,” said Celia Hagert of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low- and middle-income Texans. “It’s clear evidence of what a better funded and staffed eligibility system is capable of.”

I could crab about how we got into this mess in the first place and how it took threats of federal action for the state to take it seriously enough to address, but I’ll skip that this time and just offer my kudos to Tom Suehs for getting this done. There’s still a long way to go, and we may never truly undo the damage of the failed privatization scheme that left HHSC in such a mess, but so far so good.

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