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 nearly 8 percent of Texas children experience moderate to severe hunger each year. Yet, with 20 percent of Texas 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 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:
Ensure eligible families are able to enroll in safety-net programs, including SNAP, WIC, and TANF, and improve access to benefits:
- Increase the flexibility and availability of WIC appointments with remote visits.
- Modernize the application process of federally-funded assistance programs by reducing the number of websites used for families to learn about each individual program.
- Strengthen and support information and referral systems overseen by the state and operated by local communities, 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.
- Ensure families already receiving TANF benefits continue to receive those benefits, uninterrupted, for as long as they are needed.
- 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 families earn and save enough money to address their young children’s basic needs:
- 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.
- 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.
- Extend the Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) program to be a permanent Summer EBT program for children who are certified for free or reduced-price meals at school to access meals during the summer months.
- 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.
- Alleviate the financial burden for young families by ensuring they have access to quality, affordable medical coverage to promote healthy development (Learn more here.)
- Ensure more families are eligible for and receive child care subsidies to address the high cost of care. (Learn more here.)