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Curtis: Bel-Air TV series on Peacock
Rachel: ‘Is It Worth Having Kids?,’ a video from The Economist on Youtube
Claire: ‘A New Child Labor Crisis in America,’ an episode of The Daily, a podcast from the New York Times
Nichole: Renaissance album by Beyoncé
What are SNAP benefits? Who’s eligible? How do people apply? What did the pandemic reveal about food insecurity? Rachel Cooper and Curtis Hills from Every Texan help us understand the practical realities of being a working Texan today. They talk to us about the barriers for folks living in precarity and explain how someone working full time can find themselves living on the razor’s edge. We confront the reality that all these issues boil down to political choices, and our leadership could make different choices. We remind you about the absolute necessity for civic engagement, and we hope you feel that same tug too! Let us know what you think.
Watch the episode here
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What Are SNAP Benefits Anyway? With Rachel Cooper And Curtis Hills From Every Texan
This is our Food Insecurity Series. We are continuing the conversation with Rachel Cooper and Curtis Hills from Every Texan. I was excited to talk with them. I don’t think I realized that every Texan is a think tank. I thought of them more as an advocacy group, which they are. They’re also an engagement arm in this political world. It was so great to learn more about their organization and the work they do around food insecurity in Texas.
We reached out initially to Curtis because we found this article that he wrote called Changes to SNAP Benefits Will Worsen Food Insecurity in Texas, but Help Is Available. I was like, “Someone who knows specifics about SNAP in Texas. This is great.” Curtis is a little bit newer to every Texan so we were like, “Let’s have Rachel come in too because she can bring some of that history of the organization.” Their specific titles are Rachel is the Director of Health and Food Justice and Curtis is a Food Policy Analyst. Nichole, what are some of the things still ringing in your head after our conversation?
They both occupy such interesting lanes and both perspectives are so important and fascinating. I appreciated the information that they brought. Specifically, one thing that sticks out is when Rachel was talking about what it’s like for working families and Texans and how policy decisions for instance, specifically around our minimum wage affect people, what that means for their paychecks each month or each week or however they’re paid.
It brought it home in a way that I needed to know. It was such a great reminder. When Curtis talked about SNAP for college students, that was a perspective I had never heard nor thought of before and then the implications of that made my mind start racing. They both have such important pieces to bring. I’m so glad we had both of them.
I feel like in this series what we’ve been hearing over and over again is the root causes of food insecurity or poverty but we haven’t filled in that blank. I feel like this conversation started to go there and that was helpful to connect those dots and be like, “People are in this situation because of this. We have these programs because they need assistance but if we had a different policy, maybe we wouldn’t need these programs or wouldn’t need them to the scale that we need.” It came back that these are political choices that have us where we are at this moment in time. Our landscape could look different in the future if we make different political choices. I appreciated them for emphasizing that part of the conversation. Check this episode out. It’s a good one.
Thank you for having us.
We’re so excited. Before we get into the meat of the episode, get to learn a little bit more about our guests and their connection to Texas. We would love it if you could tell us, are you from Texas? What was your upbringing like? Were you part of a family that was very political or not? We don’t go there.
I am not from Texas. I’m from Mississippi, still a Southern state. It is like Texas in so many ways. Texas is larger but Texas is very much like agriculture. You can’t drive through Mississippi without seeing a soybean field. I grew up on a farm in Mississippi. I was raised mostly by my granddad and my grandparents. My history with this work in particular came from community to organizing and it was an escape from the farm. Every summer evening, I would work with my granddad on the farm planting and then in the fall that would be a harvest. I always hated being in the sun.
This work came to me like an angel at church who ran a community-based organization. As far as politics in my family, no we didn’t discuss politics that much, aside from my granddad watching the news every night. Now, you have other platforms. I don’t tend to tune into the news unless it’s on the web but not at all.
Thanks for sharing that. How about you, Rachel?
Curtis and I have a very different start. I was born in Jamaica. My father was a politician in Jamaica. Back then, things got very crazy and dangerous. We had to leave. We moved to the States. We moved around a little bit and ended up coming to Texas back in 1981 to Houston. In many ways, I do consider Texas folk because I’ve been here since junior high. Politics was something we talked a lot about. My father loved to talk about politics, race and religion. He liked to debate with people. That’s how I got drawn into the world of ideas and policy and how you could change things.
I feel like we could spend a whole interview. I want to know so much more about the ways that each of you grew up. I’m fascinated by the idea of growing up on a farm in Mississippi. I know that you wanted to escape but I want to pick your brain for every little piece of it. Rachel, my dad is from Barbados, which is in Jamaica but still, these island men love to engage anybody and everybody. I relate to that. There is no place we can go that my father isn’t going to. It’s almost like he makes friends but he cannot help himself.
He is always engaging someone in something. The last time we went out to dinner and this is such a ridiculous story, my dad can write in Sanskrit so he insisted on writing our waiter’s name. It turns out the waiter’s girlfriend also worked at the same restaurant so he called her over. By the end, my dad is writing on these napkins and talking to them about the languages he’s learned. There’s something about people from the West Indies. I had to share little tidbits.
Your dad would’ve been a natural politician, “Come on, folks. Let’s have a party.” I would love to ask about Every Texan. If you all could share what the mission is at that organization and how you got connected with Every Texan.
We used to be called the Center for Public Policy Priorities. We started as a think tank. We work on many of the issues that face Texans and low-income Texans specifically food and nutrition, healthcare, education, taxes and budget. We still do those things but we’re known as Every Texan. We try to focus on those things with more of an equity lens. Think about that Texas will only succeed if its people succeed and where you were born shouldn’t determine your future. Everyone should have an equitable shot.
We try to do more in terms of engagement and not just be a policy shop. Curtis and I worked together on the health and food justice team. I came to it. I graduated college from the University of Houston. I got a Master’s at Northwestern. I came back to Texas briefly and realized at that time there wasn’t much happening in the policy space where I thought I could fit in. I left and went to New York and then to DC to work. When an opportunity came to come back to Texas, I took it because my family was still here. I’ve been back for the last many years.
How about you, Curtis? How did you end up at every Texan?
It’s the whole nonprofit realm I’ve been working in my whole life. It did start from the farm, like the escape but there are a lot of issues going on in my community in Lexington, whether that was Juvenile Justice Reform, teen pregnancy or environmental justice. Those are things I found to be of interest to me and luckily, there was a community-based organization in my hometown that was doing that work. I got started with the nonprofit space early on.
I hated the farm but through organizing and learning from people with way more wisdom than me, I found the connection between farming and community organizing, grassroots approach, civic activism and all of the work. How I got to Every Texas county fell in my lap. After college, I did a fellowship with the Congressional Hunger Center and was working around food policy working with community-based organizations.
There were two parts to the fellowship. One sent me to Alabama troops work and the other sent me to DC to work with the Congressional Hunger Center directly to do work around food insecurity and college hunger. While I was ending that fellowship, the director told me, “There’s a position opening up in Texas.” At the time, he said that the person who was leaving was an Emerson fellow.
I don’t know if that’s what it was or not. Whenever I interviewed for the job, Rachel said she was looking for someone with my expertise and also someone who had a community outreach approach to the work. I didn’t have to add anything extra to get to everything. It fell in my lap. That was the person Rachel wanted and that’s how I got here.
I want to take a quick pause and ask a question about Every Texan starting as a think tank. On this show, we try to help people understand the different components that add to our government, whether it’s lobbyists, staffers or think tanks. How do think tanks mix into the policy that we end up getting as Texans? What’s their role in this whole government scheme?
When you think about it, there are so many different policies and issues that no one legislator or their staff can keep up. They cannot be experts in everything. The folks who are experts in any particular policy area are either the agencies that have to implement the policies or folks like us, think tanks who can immerse themselves in it, understand it and then think, “What do we want to see change?”
“How would it work better depending on our ideological viewpoint for our state or how can we maximize and better the program?” Whatever it is, sometimes it’s how to kill the program. That person analyst takes those ideas, writes them down, advertises them and goes talk to the legislature. They become a trusted source that the legislator will turn to for ideas and seal of approval like, “Is this even legal?” That’s the space we occupy.
It might be wise if we also touch on how think tanks are funded. It could be a misconception that they’re government funded. They are not correct. They’re typically nonprofits that are funded by donations.
We are funded by grants and donations. We don’t accept government funds that allow you to then be a voice that can say, “This is wrong. We disagree.” We work with a lot of organizations and partners. Some of whom do have government grants to do the outreach program. Sometimes they are restricted in what they can say because they have a contractual agreement with a government agency. We are more independent so we can say what we think needs to be said without fearing retribution to our budget. It’s a mixture of donations and grants from foundations and others.Grants and donations fund Every Texan, so we don't accept government funds. It allows us to be a voice that says, “This is wrong” or “We disagree.” Click To Tweet
Before we move into food insecurity, can you tell us about the lens that Every Texan is seeing policy? What are the tenants that abide by that help guide the policies that you’re proposing to legislators?
When I first got to the organization, it is policy focused. As I’ve been at the organization, even though others may not see it, I see it as the policy and community that always have been connected within the organization. I feel the organization has always been connected enough to the community to where they know the issues that matter to people and use this community-focused lens. There are things that we’re always going to work on when it comes to food insecurity. There are going to always be issues around it.
Since I’ve come on, the organization has used a community lens. I don’t know how much Rachel would agree with that but from the information, Rachel and others have developed and the organization uses the community lens to lead its work. In the sense of direct community outreach, that’s our next step. I do think the organization uses what’s going on with everyday Texans. The mission leads the work that we’re doing. If we’re not in tune with what’s going on within the community, then we have no work to do because we can’t speak to the issues in a real way.If we're not in tune with what's going on within a community, then we have no work to do because we can't speak to the issues in a real way. Click To Tweet
I feel like maybe you’re using the word community in a way that is a shortcut for your work and the people that you serve. It feels as if we’re talking like working-class Texans, people who maybe don’t have the same advantages in terms of generational wealth. I feel like there’s maybe some code for a community that we need to crack a little if you had to break down what community means to you, who those folks are and what those everyday Texans look like.
For me, the everyday Texans are the folks that aren’t making six figures. It’s the folks that are very much working-class people who are keeping the economy going and working their butts off to get the money that they do make but still need a little bit of help. I don’t know that I’m talking about low-income folks but I’m talking about folks that if it wasn’t for them, the economy wouldn’t keep going.
I’m talking about the folks that work at your local grocery store or someone that works in retail or even the person who does landscaping. The folks that are doing what I see as essential work that is a lot of times overlooked are the common folk. I see Texans as people like me, my granddad and the people that I grew up around.
That helps paint a picture of whom we’re talking about and whom you all seem to be mindful of in your work. I’d love to transition into understanding food insecurity. Nichole and I had been learning that 1 in 8 Texans is food insecure, which is mind-blowing. I’m like, “That’s a lot of Texans.” We also know a lot of these folks have jobs and are working but still living on that razor’s edge. Why are so many people going hungry in Texas in spite of the fact that they’re working and have full-time jobs?
They’re the everyday essential Texans but they’re also underpaid Texans. We celebrate the fact that we are a low-wage state. We are comfortable with the fact that we’ve never raised the minimum wage and we don’t guarantee benefits of any sort for folks. We’ve turned the right to work almost into the right to exploit folks in terms of people who can be working 30 to 40 hours a week, not get health insurance, leave time, sick leave, vacation leave and a living wage.
We are comfortable it seems with paying people for an hour of their labor, hard physically demanding work less than it costs to buy a meal. I think about one of those groups of everyday people. We talk about folks who are disabled but then there are the folks who take care of the disabled or the children who are caretakers.
We’re a state government that chooses to pay home health aids, taking care of the weakest, most dependent folks in our state at $10.13 an hour. That’s our government. That’s us paying for an hour of somebody’s time to save somebody else from dying. How do you then take $10.13 and then take care of your children? The math doesn’t work. You’ve got people who can’t make ends meet on their own and they have to figure out what gets paid this week.
A lot of times, the thing that they can’t pay for is food. They go to food banks, cut meals and pray to God their kids can go to school and eat at school. When any of those pillars break, as a parent, I’m happy when summer comes around because I’m thinking more about, “I don’t have to worry about the school schedule.” Another mother might be thinking, “How am I going to feed my child this week when there’s no school lunch and breakfast? Every meal’s on me. There’s no extra money for this.” It’s intrinsically tied to income and our willingness to pay people what they’re worth.
It makes me think of our conversation with Celia Cole from Feeding Texas. Something she kept saying was, “Hunger is a money problem.” I’m like, “It seems that. I’ve also heard that food is an indicator of other problems. It’s like the check engine light. If you don’t have food, there’s probably a whole lot of other things that you’re also on that razor’s edge with.” I want to circle back real quick because this caught my ear. Can you talk about the right to work, what that means and how that plays into depressed wages here in the state?
There’s this lack of security and that is okay with us. Workers shouldn’t be able to demand or expect certain floors. There should be a floor. Your job hopefully in a modern world should be safe, free of harassment, have some sense of security and also meet your basic needs to live at the bare minimum. We don’t do that as a political choice. It all comes back to choices. They’re all political choices.
It’s much harder to organize and for laborers to exert their rights here than in other places. That’s a philosophical choice and ideological choice or whatever you want to call it. It has consequences. People are doing the same job here as they could in another state and be paid significantly less for the same amount of labor and/or at least not have, even if it’s not cash, it’s other benefits that come along with it.
Not having healthcare is incredibly expensive. We don’t think about it that way. We think about healthcare as being health insurance is expensive but not having it is even more expensive for folks. Let’s say my child trips and needs stitches and that is bad. I have to take her to the doctor. That bill is not going to break me. For someone without health insurance, that bill could break them and could take away their food budget for the rest of the month and more. It’s also much more likely to ruin their credit.
Once you have bad credit, everything else in life becomes more expensive. You need a loan to buy a car and do this. There are a lot of jobs that won’t hire you if you have bad credit. They’re all linked together. Families don’t see these as separate things. They feel them because they’re all interconnected with each other. Once you are stuck in it, it’s hard to pull yourself out.
All of this can be changed with policy. Oftentimes, what I’ve learned since being at the organization is not that the policies aren’t written in a way where change can be made, it’s the opposite. Sometimes they’re written in a way that makes total sense but lawmakers aren’t utilizing the policies that they even write to the full extent. One of the things I think about is inflation and how our policies aren’t an indication of our current economic condition.
With everything Rachel said, these are issues that families have been facing for a long time. For every issue Rachel mentioned, my feelings are that they’re getting worse because the policies aren’t a reflection of where we are. People making $10 or $9. I see memes all the time about the price of eggs. We’re talking about the price of one food, let alone a whole grocery list full of items you would need for a household that people aren’t getting.
Nichole, what are your thoughts?
I want to highlight that because this keeps coming up for me and it’s surprising that it’s a new thought that I’m having since we started this series. The idea that this is a political choice, it’s common for folks who aren’t living on that razor’s edge to engage. If you’ve read our Adam Johnson episode, it was like this, “How did this happen?” It’s either you don’t know that they’re happening or it’s not in your face.
It’s not something that you are aware of or paying attention to or when you’re made aware, you think, “I don’t know,” not recognizing that this is based on political choices that are being made and that it could be different. I want to keep hammering in on that this isn’t something we have to accept because it’s the way it is. That’s not true at all. We can make very different political choices. We can engage with our lawmakers and politicians in ways that they feel accountable and responsible to the people that they are supposed to serve. It drives me crazy.
It also makes me think of an interview we did with Dr. Laurie Green. She talked about how activism never stops and when it does, that’s when retrogression creeps in. We have to cultivate this all the time. Otherwise, we backslide and backslide. Even thinking about the minimum wage, I forget. Other states can have higher minimum wages than the Federal one. When was the minimum wage established? It’s $7.25 an hour. Was that in 1990 something?
That was back in the ‘90s. That was Bill Clinton when the current one was set. We choose to stay there. In other states, it’s $15 an hour. Many states even tie it to inflation so it automatically increases. These are all choices. We’ve made the choice that cities, which are traditionally much more expensive to live in, can’t set their levels and minimum wages. Cities can’t set sick leave policies to require employers to have an option. If someone gets sick, they have to come to work and spread their germs because they can’t afford to miss work. They don’t have a fallback of sick days like what folks in white-collar jobs have and other folks. Those are all choices we tolerate.
There were cities in Texas that tried to implement policies about paid sick and time off. They said, “No, you can’t do that.” Is that what happened?
Yes. They took to the court to say that we couldn’t do it but to others, it’s based on what ideology, what works for certain people and what we tolerate.
I wanted to pause on that because that is a good illustration of a political choice that the state chose. The cities tried to choose one thing and the state chose another. This is where we are because of those decision-makers. I’d like to get back into food insecurity and the particular programs we have in place to assist people who need access to food. Curtis, can you tell us about SNAP a little bit more? What are some of the qualifications people have to meet to be eligible for SNAP and some of the changes that have happened since the pandemic?
SNAP is Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It’s essentially a program for low-income folks who need supplemental nutrition. To be eligible, there are income requirements. You may not meet some part of the Federal poverty line or what’s listed as the Federal poverty line. It varies. I don’t want to speak on numbers but the program is to assist families.
The application process for the program can be a little difficult and complex for families. Let’s say you apply and you don’t know how to fill out the application like, “I don’t know whom to call for assistance. I may not apply for the program.” We have families getting emergency allotments throughout the pandemic. For a lot of families, that was something that was needed before the pandemic.
I’m not going down a rabbit hole. I’m spilling out the problems at this point. On average, families are losing $211 in Texas. I think about my grocery bill and I’m like, “I work out and I need to fuel my body.” I think about a family that maybe has two kids. $211 goes a long way to making sure that not only you eat but your children eat.
Families lost that. It stopped in February 2023. You have things like P-EBT. All these programs aligned together and families receive P-EBT benefits or the Pandemic-EBT. In the state of Texas, families have been sent out claim codes and ways of collecting their benefits. When families receive that, then that’s it. If a family’s claim code has expired, then that family has missed out on $391.
The problem with programs like SNAP is that the application process can be very complex. The outreach for those programs and explaining it in detail can also be very complex and not digestible for families. It’s hard to even understand if I qualify. I had a third point but it’s escaping me. I don’t know if Rachel wants to time in a little bit more. I do want to end my point by saying SNAP is an amazing program if it’s utilized in the way that it’s intended to be utilized.
I also want to ask about work requirements because my understanding is that work requirements have changed. They were suspended during the pandemic. Are there debates about them coming back? I’m not clear and I feel like you know about this.
Under Federal law, there have been for decades work requirements for SNAP, especially for adults. There is a special group they call Able Bodied Adults without Dependents. It means you don’t have children living at home and you’re not physically disabled. We know that there are a lot of folks who have issues and can’t work full-time but also can’t get diagnosed as fully disabled. Whether or not they’re able-bodied is not always true but during the pandemic, those work requirements were halted. Under the typical rules, those folks could only stay on SNAP for 3 months every 3 years unless they were meeting at least 30 hours of work in Texas.
They’re not always able to hold down 30 hours or find 30 hours of work. People would constantly get kicked off. People assume that if you see somebody who’s homeless, then they’re getting SNAP but usually, they’re not eligible. They can’t meet the work requirements and a lot of other issues. Those folks fall through the cracks that those pandemic relief measures are all ending in May 2023. Work requirements will be back. There will be people who struggle to keep the food on the table. There will be people who will be pushed back into the emergency food system because they can’t rely on SNAP or keep their benefits.
I want to chime in a little bit to talk about something when people mention SNAP, they usually think about adults receiving SNAP. I do want to take the time to plug in college SNAP because when the P-EBT ends, then college students are going to be affected by it too. While the pandemic was going on, students had certain exemptions. Those exemptions were they had to have an expected family contribution of zero and students had to be eligible to participate in the state of Federal finance work study. That’s all you needed during the pandemic and you qualified for SNAP if you were a college student.
Those exemptions are going to be no longer. You’re going to go back to essentially what looks like pre-pandemic requirements. To list out a couple, are you under the age of 18, 50 or older and enrolled full or halftime as a college student at a college, university or school? You have a physical or mental disability. You work at least twenty hours a week in paid employment and participate in the federally financed work-study program and on-the-job training program.
Those are not all the requirements that students will have to meet but students will have to meet one of those requirements to be eligible for SNAP. When we talk about SNAP, I don’t want it to look like a family issue or a household issue. I also want to highlight that it very much is a way of making sure that students can also eat. These students are going to be the next people rolling into the workforce. Unfortunately, sometimes students have to pick up jobs in college to feed themselves. It not only hurts adults and children. This hurts other young people too.SNAP is not just a family issue or a household issue. It is a way of making sure that students can also eat. Click To Tweet
I’m thinking about the bootstrap conversation with Lawson Picasso and the idea that if we want people to have opportunities to keep moving up the ladder, whatever that ladder looks like, that is such an excellent way of empowering people to be able to build an education that can help them get higher paying jobs. If they can’t afford to stay in college by providing some benefit in terms of being able to eat, that is disproportionately going to affect a certain population.
What I’m thinking about this conversation regarding the pandemic and the experimentation that happened like suspending requirements for certain programs, is was it ever like, “We spend these programs and people benefited. Let’s go with these requirements?” Why are we so quick to be like, “Time for the requirements back.” Is it like we don’t want to spend money?
It goes back to the political choices and the ideology. We know it worked. We ended hunger or kept hunger in check. At a time when there are record unemployment needs and we would have mile-long lines at food banks, the government responded in new, innovative and amazing ways. It pumped a lot of money into the food system.
Let’s face it. If you give money to people in the form of SNAP, that frees up other money in their budget so that they can do other things like pay their rent or school fees, whatever it is to keep the rest of their life functional. The money that people do spend at supermarkets also gets turned over in local neighborhoods. Every county and town benefits from SNAP because folks spend in the supermarkets, pay taxes and employ workers. The money gets turned back over into the local economy.
SNAP works. We saw that. We had other programs like Pandemic-EBT, which was about giving parents cash on debit cards to replace school meals kids were missing when the schools closed down. When schools did reopen, we made school meals free for every child in the country. We didn’t ask for paperwork or have income. None of that. Every child eats because every child needs it. That’s what we did.
All of those things have been tremendously successful if your metric is ending hunger. If that’s what you prioritize and you believe that’s an important thing, then all of those things are worth the investment. There are reasons we’re rolling this back. This isn’t new. This happened after The Great Recession too. There was a response from the hunger community and government to try, intervene and keep down hunger.
That not only disappeared but the programs were also attacked from functioning too well because then the metric was we spent too much but we didn’t spend too much. We spent what was needed. The programs did exactly what they were supposed to do, grow to respond to need and then when the need disappeared, the program enrollment dropped and the amount spent dropped. The attack was that these people were bakers and takers. The folks who needed these programs were takers and somehow abused the system.
This time around, no one wants to work because we’re giving them too much benefits and food. This is how it sounds to me. Stop feeding people and they’ll be forced to go work for substandard wages. That’s what you’re saying. Not that people can’t work or people need more but if they don’t want to take a $9 an-hour job, it’s because they’re lazy versus they don’t want to take a $9 an-hour job because it’s crappy. That’s the argument. That’s part of the attack.
It’s interesting to me because I think about the people who are having these conversations and making these policies. If you were in that position, would you do that? If you wouldn’t, maybe you shouldn’t be putting that forward if you wouldn’t walk that walk. As we’re wrapping up, I want to circle back to Texas. Nichole and I talk a lot on the show about how we have a $32.7 billion budget surplus. The comptroller, Glenn Hegar said this is a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity. What are some of the things that Every Texan would like to see this money go towards to help support those Texans that need it the most?
Different people at Every Texan would give you different answers. We want to see more going into public education like school systems and invest in our kids and higher education. Those are all critical. We would also like to see investments in health and food. Thankfully, at least on the food side, most of the money is federal. There are other states though that choose to put state money into ending hunger and making sure that all kids are fed.
Some states have programs for undocumented folks using state money to make sure that they don’t go hungry. Those are all choices that we could be making. It’s better healthcare, expanding Medicaid even though that wouldn’t cost us much because the Feds would pick up the tab for most of it but we refuse to do that. Also, better schools and investment in our people. We’d like to see paid family leave as an option for folks. Those are some of the big things.
To put the people’s needs first, we have this whole people’s budget idea. You should be investing in the real people and the real needs of people. Make sure that Texas isn’t just a great state for business. How about we try to be a great state for people? We’re not there. We talk about we’re number one in new businesses or low taxation but we don’t talk about how we’re number 1 in uninsured Texans, number 5 in hungry people or 43rd for children to grow up. That’s Texas too.
This is piggybacking off of Rachel but I have two specifically, which are education and food. I feel like most problems can be solved if you take care of those two. You make sure that students are receiving a quality education. I hate to use the word looking for alternatives to SNAP because you could take that language and switch it into, “We don’t need SNAP.” That’s not it. More or less what I’m saying is there are other ways to explore ending hunger and food insecurity. I would like to see money spent on exploring alternative options. People will say that means, “You’re giving people more so you’re making them lazier.”
People are working for us for $7, $8 or $9 an hour. They’re going to need the program regardless. We’re trying to put systems in place where no one is hungry so that means no one needs these programs. Figuring out ways to make sure people are fed is one but also pumping money into education and making sure that folks know what healthy food is. Folks can go out here and get jobs and careers that pay them well so that when we talk about hunger, it is no longer a real conversation. It’s more like, “I could go to the store and get this food.” It’s more of a choice. “I have enough money to go get food. I’m just not going to get food because I have enough money.” Wouldn’t that be a great problem to have?Figure out ways to ensure people are well-fed and pump money into education. Click To Tweet
I appreciate you both mentioning education. Curtis, I was thinking about this when you’re talking about inflation. The basic allotment in Texas is a little over $6,000 but I saw a presentation by a CFO for a school district. He said, “When you count for inflation, it’s $5,700.” It’s like, “You have less money because of inflation. You have to do more with less.” That’s already not a lot of money as it is. It’s unreal that we starve our public school system and hopefully, some changes will happen there. Nichole, do you have any final questions before I move to the Attention Mentions?
I don’t have any final questions. I’m grateful for your perspective and time. I feel like I keep building my understanding of all this. If I had one conclusion, it feels as if when we’re thinking about these policies, what would be amazing is if lawmakers and people who get to past policy would talk to folks like you guys at Every Texan who understand the complexities of it all and listen to your input and what you have to say because there’s a lot to consider that unless you’re on the ground floor of it, you wouldn’t know what matters and what works. My hope would be that our lawmakers would listen to the folks who are on the ground with the people who need these services.
We’re going to move into our Attention Mentions to conclude the show where we mentioned something that has our attention. It can be a show you’re watching, a podcast you’re listening to or a book. I’ll go first. Readers, you know this about me but I’m a podcastaholic. I was listening to The Daily, which is a New York Times Podcast. They had an episode called A New Child Labor Crisis in America, which is relevant to this conversation.
There’s been a lot of investigative journalism about children who are working in terrible conditions, migrant children specifically, like meat packing, plants and factories. It’s a variety of problems that’s led to the situation where migrant children come to the border because it’s easier for them to cross. They will end up with family members or whoever’s their sponsor. They will work these jobs that are very unsafe because they feel obligated to return money to their families. There are terrible consequences that are happening.
This podcast brought that awareness to me. The reporting is bringing awareness to the nation but it’s unreal talking about political choices that this is happening and shouldn’t be happening. We can stop it but we have to know that it’s there and then pressure our lawmakers to do something about it. It’s another box to open and learn about. That’s what I have. How about you, Curtis?
I’m going to pick my TV show. I don’t watch much TV. Bel-Air is something that I’ll be getting into because it’s a depiction of a Black family. Most of the TV shows I watch that are Black center have a lot of violence. For me, if I see something, I believe I can be that thing, especially if someone looks like me. I think about the kids that are growing up and I still feel like a kid myself. If I see a successful dad that’s running for political office but also a great husband and an overall family man, that does something for me as a Black man seeing a different family dynamic. I can’t name any but Bel-Air is the one that sticks out to me that makes me think, “This is good content.”
Where can we find that?
How about you, Rachel?
With the stuff I do at work, I tend not to have the mental energy to do anything too draining or thought-provoking usually. I tend to watch a lot of YouTube videos randomly. In one minute, it’ll be interior decorating and then next it’ll be a music video, mixing with history, politics and stuff. The Economist is a magazine I used to like but I don’t have time to read it. They had the longest article known to man.
They had an interesting one about raising children is worth it. It was all about how many folks are either childless or having fewer kids. It’s worldwide. It’s the economic choices and policy choices that make it so hard and expensive to have kids. I’ve been listening to a lot of related material to that issue because I see the change happening with a lot of the people I work with. Younger folks are choosing to be childless. It’s a massive shift happening.
Kids are expensive. I can’t believe what I pay for childcare but what are you going to do? They got to go somewhere during the day. Nichole, close us out.
I’ve been listening to Beyoncé’s album Renaissance. That was inspired by going to the drag performer Shangela’s show at the Paramount. She closed up with this amazing number that was a little bit of a lot of the songs from the Renaissance. I was like, “Let me go ahead and buy the album.” I bought it right after and it is the best to listen to in the car. I look crazy as I sing and do all kinds of crazy hand motions.
Thank you so much, Rachel and Curtis. We appreciate your time and for you explaining more about Every Texan and the super important work you all are doing. Thank you for being with us.
- Every Texan
- Changes to SNAP Benefits Will Worsen Food Insecurity in Texas, but Help Is Available.
- Celia Cole – Past Episode
- Adam Johnson – Past Episode
- Dr. Laurie Green – Past Episode
- Lawson Picasso – Past Episode
- A New Child Labor Crisis in America
About Rachel Cooper
Rachel Cooper oversees health care policy for Every Texan. She joined Every Texan in 2012 with a focus on food and nutrition programs as well as obesity. Before joining Every Texan, she worked for the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) where she was in charge of research and data analysis and authored reports such as the School Breakfast Scorecard, Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation, and State of the States. Cooper also worked for the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), in their New York office, where she focused on helping families gain access to programs that provide work supports, such as tax credits, Medicaid, SCHIP, and food stamps. Cooper received her Masters in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University.
About Curtis Hills
Curtis Hills joined Every Texan in 2021 as a Food Policy Analyst, a new role for the organization. Curtis brings the tools and skills of a seasoned community organizer to his work on childhood nutrition and safety net programs. A native of Lexington, MS, Curtis graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in English. His passion for social justice began in the eighth grade while working with the non-profit Nollie Jenkins Center to help dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and research ways to alleviate food insecurity in Holmes County. After college, Curtis served as an Emerson National Hunger Fellow and AmeriCorps Vista.