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Hunger Increases Across Texas As Federal Benefits Evaporate

Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio
Cars wait in line hundreds of cars long Friday morning to access food at the Alamo Dome

Cars filled sections of the Alamodome parking lot Friday morning. More than 1,500 people registered for a mass food distribution put on by the San Antonio Food Bank.

The numbers have dropped significantly since the April distribution that saw 10,000 families fed, but organizers said the late July numbers were up from the previous week. 

Many food bank operators have publicly worried about the end of federal unemployment benefits that in Texas ended the prior weekend. 

"That little bit of extra support that they might have gotten in unemployment that they’ve been stocking away — when that starts to run out that’s when the tsunami of need will hit us," said Eric Cooper, president of the San Antonio Foodbank. 

|Related: Food Banks Across Texas Brace For 'Perfect Storm' of August Challenges|

Cooper said he didn’t know what to expect this week, but compared the loss of benefits to an economic cliff for families.

“There’s no work. There’s no work. There’s no income, so that’s one of the reasons we’re all here,” said Rosario Cepeda from the driver’s seat of her car. The hairstylist was near the front of the line, and had been there at least an hour waiting. Cepeda said things had been returning to normal. She didn’t need to come to a mass distribution for two months. But when the surge in cases hit San Antonio, her business dropped again. 

Cepeda had received the extra $600 a week. Now that has ended and Congress is still trying to settle what the next relief bill looks like, how much money and to whom it will be given. Cepeda only has enough clients a week to scrape out the cost of rent. 

“How are we gonna pay for the rest of the stuff?” she asked. “At least we have food.” 

Cepeda and millions like her may need to make some tough choices on what gets purchased in the near future. Hundreds of cars back Trevette Armstrong sits in her sedan thinking about that. 

She is on disability and started coming to the distributions when her partner lost their job in March. If she couldn’t get food at these distributions, she would have to choose between food and medicine.

"Medicine. So, being that I’m on Medicare, that helps with medicine, but a lot of the time — even though you're paying insurance cost — the co-pay is still ridiculously high for some of my medications," she said.  

The San Antonio Food Bank will hold another distribution Tuesday morning. They expect less than 500 families. They are trying to prepare for the “tsunami” Cooper talked about. Food Banks across the state expect numbers to grow this week.

“I keep thinking we are going to level out, but each month I am proven wrong,” said Libby Campbell, executive director of the West Texas Food Bank. 

Now with federal benefits running out for both small businesses and individuals that is unlikely.

“[It’s] the first full week of the month, bills have come due, and money is running out, said Campbell.

“We are bracing to get hammered.”

Paul Flahive can be reached at paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org