Policy Recommendations for Sufficient Household Resources

The Dashboard data make clear that too many children and families in Texas struggle to meet basic needs, such as adequate food and stable housing, creating stressors for young children that hinder brain development and lifelong learning. About 1 in 3 Texas children under age 6 live in or near poverty; and 1 in 12 households in Texas with at least one child under age 6 experience moderate to severe hunger. Yet, 24 percent of Texas families with children who are eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food benefits are not enrolled, meaning Texas is missing out on opportunities to reduce child hunger. 

Texas leaders can address child poverty and help ensure families have sufficient resources to focus on their children’s healthy development. Federally-funded assistance programs – including SNAP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – are cost-effective investments proven to reduce hunger, improve children’s nutrition and health, enhance household financial stability, and support academic achievement. While these programs are federally funded, state leaders make decisions about state matching funds, extra eligibility requirements, and administrative barriers that families face when applying for these programs.

Policymakers have taken modest steps in recent years to improve Texas families’ access to household resources. (Learn more here.) The following bills were adopted during the 2023 legislative session:

  • SB 222 provided eight weeks of paid parental leave to mothers and birthing parents, as well as four weeks to fathers and non-birthing parents, after birth or adoption for state employees participating in the Employees Retirement System of Texas.
  • HB 1287 modernized the SNAP Vehicle Asset Test with a one-time adjustment to keep families from having to choose between reliable transportation and food.
  • HB 1361 provided for the designation of a liaison officer at each public institution of higher education to assist and provide information on health services, eligible benefits, campus resources, and success strategies to students who are the parent or guardian of a child younger than 18 years of age.

However, much more work is needed. Policymakers can ensure that families get connected to needed resources and that children and families receive the benefits for which they are eligible by acting on the recommendations outlined below, which cover two broad strategies.

  • Reduce unintended barriers and other obstacles for eligible children and families to access federally-funded assistance programs, including SNAP, WIC, and TANF.
  • Ensure families are able to earn and save enough money to address their young children’s basic needs.

Ensure eligible families are able to enroll in safety-net programs, including SNAP, WIC, and TANF, and improve access to benefits:

  • Strengthen and support information and referral systems operated by local communities and overseen by the state, such as 211 Texas and Help Me Grow Texas, which offer a centralized access point to connect families to the grid of community-based and statewide resources and assistance programs. 
  • Update the state-run eligibility and enrollment system to remove unintended barriers, including increasing investments in Texas 2-1-1 call centers and modernizing the YourTexasBenefits website and app. These are the tools that Texas families use to sign up and renew their children for SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, and CHIP. Yet long wait times, technology barriers, and application backlogs create hurdles for families to sign up and renew benefits.
  • Modernize the application process of federally-funded assistance programs by reducing the number of websites used for families to learn about each individual program.
  • Ensure families already receiving TANF benefits continue to receive those benefits, uninterrupted, for as long as they are needed.
  • Increase the availability of WIC appointments through the option of remote visits.
  • Reimburse doctors and health professionals through Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to screen children for non-medical drivers of health at each well-child visit in order to assess a child’s needs for food, housing, transportation, safety, and other social services.
  • Reduce administrative burden by extending enrollment periods for assistance programs and relaxing the limits placed on cars and other assets to qualify for SNAP & TANF.
  • Help families who are near poverty or economically vulnerable by updating the income threshold for financial assistance (TANF), which has not been modified in over 20 years, to reflect inflation and the rising cost of living.

Help ensure families can earn and save enough money to address their young children’s basic needs:

  • Provide funding for local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites to ensure more eligible families claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), one of the nation’s largest anti-poverty programs.
  • Reduce the emotional stress and financial burden on families with newborns or who are experiencing illness by enacting paid family and sick leave. 
  • Strengthen fair lending in Texas, including through rate caps on auto-title and payday loans to protect families from a cycle of debt.
  • Reduce the number of children experiencing housing insecurity by expanding eviction prevention services and access to affordable housing.
  • Ensure more families are eligible for and receive child care subsidies to address the high cost of care. Learn more about our recommendations for child care policy here
  • Support strategies to raise parents’ wages to keep pace with inflation and the rising cost of living.
  • Strengthen access to supportive services in job training and education to increase the ability of parents to get quality jobs and advance in the workforce.
  • Alleviate the financial burden for young families by ensuring they have access to quality, affordable medical coverage to promote healthy development. Learn more about our recommendations for health care policy here.