TribBlog: Still Seeking Sustenance” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

The state is working to get poor Texans food stamps quicker, but it’s not fast enough for many families, and too many children are getting their only hot meal at school, according to Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid. The group sent a fourth demand letter today to Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs, on behalf of 19 families that applied for food stamps, demanding that he take emergency action to ensure their children can eat.

The families sued the state last month, and they have sent three previous letters seeking a response to their applications. Texas has struggled mightily to keep up with demand for food stamps over the last year as demand has soared in the midst of the economic crisis. Two-thirds of the applicants have had to wait longer than the federally mandated 30 days for the state to determine their eligibility.

Since the lawsuit and federal demands for compliance, the HHSC has worked to speed up the approval process. Spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said they have hired 674 new eligibility staff since September and pulled more than 100 staff from other areas in the agency into special units to work backlogged cases. Wait times have been reduced across the state, and only two offices — both in the Houston area — have wait times of 60 days.

“We understand that the wait for food benefits is still too long in most areas of the state, and we’re working as fast as we can to provide benefits more quickly,” Goodman said. “But we don’t have the authority to ignore state law or waive federal requirements. We must make sure that the families who apply for benefits qualify for those benefits.”

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