San Antonio Express-News. Dec. 27, 2020.

Editorial: Expand SNAP to alleviate hunger

Food banks across the country have been especially hard hit during the pandemic.

Expansion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food assistance program for families would go a long way toward alleviating this strain.

It’s a harsh reality that many families must rely on free food distribution programs even during the best of economic times. This is definitely not the best of times. Reduced business operations and staggering unemployment numbers have lengthened food lines across the country, especially in San Antonio, where poverty is endemic. Families who have lived paycheck to paycheck, juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet, are finding their cupboards bare.

Many who relied on food stamps to supplement their food budgets are now relying on them for all their food needs — and it’s difficult to stretch those dollars to the end of the month. Remember, it’s supposed to be a supplement, not provide every meal.

Expansion of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps, would help end some of this food insecurity.

A 15 percent increase in the monthly allotment would have a tremendous impact on alleviating some of that pressure, according to San Antonio Food Bank President and CEO Eric Cooper, who met with us during a recent virtual Editorial Board meeting to discuss hunger in San Antonio.

SNAP offers temporary food assistance to eligible families through debit cards that can be used to purchase groceries. During fiscal 2020, the average SNAP household received about $246 a month in food assistance. The average per person was about $125 per month, which comes out to about $1.39 per person, per meal.

Since the start of the pandemic there has been a significant increase in SNAP participation across the country. Enrollment went from about 37 million to 43 million just between February and May, according to a study of U.S. Department of Agriculture data by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Increasing the direct allotment would allow the money to flow directly into the hands of those in need and cut out the middle man. Food banks are labor-intensive operations. The food must be procured, warehoused, and distributed into the hands and kitchens of recipients.

Donors and volunteers have stepped up in a big way during the pandemic, but soliciting donations and recruiting volunteers is a never-ending process for food bank administrators.

The San Antonio Food Bank, which serves a 16-county region, has been fortunate on many fronts. Despite fears of donor weariness from the continued pleas for help, individual and corporate donations continue to flow in, including an undisclosed sum from billionaire MacKenzie Scott. The Express-News has donated $25,000 to the Food Bank this year.

The good news is volunteers keep answering the call.

Overnight, the San Antonio Food Bank went from feeding 60,000 people a week to 120,000. The numbers have not let up, and Cooper does not anticipate a shortening of the line.

Those numbers are not unique to our region. Since the start of the pandemic, food insecurity has increased across the country. The number doubled overall and tripled in households with children, according to a June report by the Northwestern Institute for Policy Research.

The Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, conducted Oct. 28-Nov. 22, found adults in households with children were more likely to report they didn’t get enough to eat. In Texas, 20 percent of households with children reported food insecurity during that survey period. Food insecurity in households with just adults was 14 percent.

This is not the time to establish new programs to feed the hungry. Improving on what we already have is a better strategy. Boost SNAP as it will alleviate hunger and boost the economy.

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Austin American-Statesman. Dec. 27, 2020.

Editorial: Texas has real problems. APD isn’t one of them.

Let’s get this straight.

More than 25,000 Texans have died from a virus that is overwhelming hospitals in some parts of the state. Texas has the largest number of uninsured residents in the country, a staggering public health problem burdening hospitals and our state economy even before the pandemic came along. And when it comes to policing, a harsh new state report says the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement is woefully ill-equipped to provide the training standards and rigorous oversight of peace officers that Texans deserve.

Yet against this backdrop, Gov. Greg Abbott would have you believe the state’s most pressing public safety problem is … policing in Austin?

And that this problem demands an unprecedented state takeover of the Austin Police Department?

Because … why?

Abbott got a lot of political mileage during election season out of railing against the Austin City Council’s budget cuts at APD. We get it. Owning the libs in Austin is good politics for our state GOP leaders. But election season is over. The legislative session will soon be upon us, and our leaders face urgent problems: Billions of dollars in projected budget shortfalls. The fallout of the coronavirus pandemic on Texas schools and our overstretched health care system. The demands to address the policing abuses that brought protesters to the streets this past summer. The mere logistics of safely conducting a legislative session amid a pandemic. Plus the critically important job of redrawing legislative and Congressional district boundaries for the next decade. Texans need for lawmakers to address these real challenges, not indulge Abbott in a gratuitous and costly stunt over the Austin police budget.

As we noted when Abbott first threatened state action on this issue, decisions over policing levels and city spending are municipal calls, made by locally elected officials who answer directly to voters. The notion that the capital knows better than City Hall on police budget decisions is absurd and runs counter to the small-government conservatism Abbott has long preached.

Moreover, contrary to the overblown rhetoric by Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, there is no indication Austin is overrun with crime. Data released this week by the FBI shows Austin to be the 11th safest city, when it comes to crimes against people, out of 22 major U.S. cities reporting their data to the National Incident-Based Reporting System. Other 2019 data show Houston, Lubbock, Dallas, Corpus Christi and Amarillo all have higher violent crime rates than Austin, yet Abbott is targeting none of those cities for state intervention.

Then again, none of those cities cut police funding like Austin did. Heck, even Austin didn’t cut police funding the way the state says it did.

As noted by this board and other media outlets, Austin did not obliterate $150 million in public safety spending, as Abbott has suggested. The city cut $21.5 million in spending, largely by canceling the next three police academy classes and eliminating funding for vacant positions. It’s also working on plans to move $80 million in civilian-run services, such as 911 dispatch and the forensic lab, into other departments — where, it is important to emphasize, that valuable work would continue to be done with those dollars. And officials are evaluating another $49 million in services to decide whether they should be cut or performed by another department.

Perhaps Abbott should listen to experts on crime and policing, who say there is no cause-and-effect relationship between the size of police budgets and the prevalence of crime. Perhaps the governor should recognize the potential for other programs to improve the safety of the community: Austin used the money saved from APD’s budget to invest in mental health services, substance abuse treatment, a family violence shelter and other needs. If the state wants to help, beefing up its support of those services would be a great place to start.

But there is no sensible case to be made for a state takeover of APD. And with the serious challenges facing lawmakers this session, there is no time to waste on this foolish stunt. It’s time for Abbott to stop playing games and start leading on the real issues affecting Texans’ health and safety.

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Forth Worth Star-Telegram. Dec. 23, 2020.

Editorial: DFW apparently doesn't have enough COVID-19 cases. So sure, bring on college playoff

Sports organizations: Is your super-spreader event making your usual host city squeamish?

Want to have crowds of fans in a stadium, restaurants and bars — the exact opposite of what health experts recommend amid alarming spikes in COVID-19 cases and deaths? Want to help us dance with dangerously low intensive-care capacity?

Boy, does Dallas-Fort Worth have a deal for you!

Bring us your multi-day rodeo. Bring us the game formerly known as the Rose Bowl. Heck, we’ll even take bowls you’ve never heard of.

We joke, but it’s no laughing matter that a college football playoff game is coming to AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Thousands of fans will come here to watch Alabama and Notre Dame and enjoy our hospitality. They’ll eat in restaurants and drink in bars. And they will undoubtedly fuel the already-raging spread of the coronavirus in Tarrant County.

Officials in California wouldn’t budge on having fans in the stadium. But whether it’s the prospect of tax revenue, help for struggling business or simply a can-do attitude, our leaders have said, sure, come on down. We certainly don’t want to emulate California in our approach to business, but the timing stinks.

And it’s not even the first refugee bowl we’re taking in. On Thursday, Hawaii and Houston face off in the New Mexico Bowl in Frisco. Texas, to be clear.

Attendance at both games will be limited, though for Cowboys games, AT&T Stadium has seen nearly 30,000 fans. Officials say all the right things about requiring masks and enforcing social distancing. But let’s be clear about what we’re doing: We’re accepting events that will spread the virus and threaten our front-line workers to put sports on ESPN for holiday entertainment.

This Editorial Board has consistently said that it’s appropriate, even necessary, to find ways to live with the virus, to safely do as much of what we would normally do. But that requires keeping a level head about the situation as it currently is. And right now, we’re setting records for cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Now is not the time to invite visitors, even well-meaning fans of two of college football’s most storied programs.

Tarrant County health officials have urged people to stay at home as much as possible. County Judge Glen Whitley recently questioned whether high school and youth sports should continue. And during the last event, the National Finals Rodeo, an uncomfortably large portion of visitors to Fort Worth’s Cowboy Christmas event and other related activities were without masks.

But if we’re going to have the games — not just these two relocated bowls but also three of the four normally held in this area, including the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth — let’s make sure the people facing the most additional risk benefit. Those profiting directly off the games should donate generously to help our doctors, nurses and hospitals. The cities hosting these events should find a way to ensure sales tax revenue goes toward our ongoing public health crisis.

Arlington and Fort Worth need to step up code enforcement to ensure bars in particular don’t become crowded hotbeds of virus transmission. Organizers must insist on mask usage and follow through, and they should be vigilant about reminding people of the need to maintain distance from others. AT&T Stadium has a robust protocol, and it must be followed.

Locals should stay home as much as possible to mitigate the effect (and frankly, that’s a good idea anyway, given the virus situation). Meanwhile, to our visitors, we say: Please, have a great time, but think of our endangered servers, hosts, bartenders and other service industry workers who are placing themselves at risk to make your stay fun and memorable. Tip generously, but more importantly, help protect them as much as possible by following common-sense protocols.

The one bright side of this is that it will help struggling local businesses, particularly the hard-hit hospitality industry and restaurants. We’re glad to see them thrown a lifeline.

We’re on a path out of this pandemic, thanks to vaccines. But for our health care workers, more difficult times are ahead.

The least we can do for them, and ourselves, is make sure the guest bowl games are memorable for what happens on the field, not after the teams and fans depart.

END