Getting purchasing power into the hands of the residents of Dallas County sounds like a fairly good thing to do these days. It sure seems that way to me.
This fact led me to check in on my friends at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to gather some financial data on the state's adminisitration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) here in Dallas County. (Brief aside: it is interesting that the State of Texas doesn't use the program's correct name in reporting its own numbers in administering the benefit to Texans--evidently in Texas we call it "Food Stamps").
Here's what I found.
For March 2009. Dallas County reported out 105,691 SNAP households representing 258,122 individuals. The average benefit per month turned out to be $277. Assuming that the program will function at about this level for the year, Dallas County participants will receive $351,316,884 to spend on groceries at local grocery markets across the county.
Officials estimate that only 67% of eligible Texans receive the SNAP benefit to which they are entitled. If you apply this estimate to Dallas County (an extremely conservative approach to this research question), it means that 157,748 households are eligible for the benefit, but 52,056 households are not taking advantage of the opportunity.
Put in retail buying power terms, Dallas County will miss out on $173,036,674 that could flow through our depressed economy at a time when every dollar counts.
The manner in which the Texas Health and Human Services Commission administers the SNAP initiative should be brought under review by the Texas Legislature.
Leave the poor aside for a moment.
Forget the poor children (all 153,510 of them who were served in March 2009).
Forget the senior citizens (all 16,543 of them served this month).
Just think of the loss to area food retail and wholesale stores this month and over the course of the year!
Afterall, $173,036,674 is not "chump change." Just ask the manager at your grocery store next time you are there.
How foolish can we be?
(To check out the data, go here.)
Credit where credit is due: thanks to my friends in Austin at the Center for Public Policy Priorities and to Senior Policy Analyst, Celia Hagert in particular for this post.