Senior Policy Analyst
Government and voluntary organizations are working quickly to help families affected by Hurricane Harvey, including by performing the critical task of ensuring that people can get enough to eat now and in the weeks ahead. Poor families that lost food due to flooding and power outages can ill afford to replace it. And, for those that will be out of their homes for some time, feeding their families without money or cooking facilities can seem like an insurmountable problem. As in prior disasters, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working with the state of Texas, local governments, and private charities to quickly give individuals the nourishment they need today and to plan for the days ahead.
USDA has already provided participants in SNAP (formerly food stamps) the flexibility to use their benefits to buy hot, ready-to-eat foods (which they generally can’t do with SNAP benefits). USDA is also partnering with disaster relief organizations, providing food for distribution to those in need, including to the many families that have evacuated their homes and sought refuge in temporary shelters.
Even after the storm passes, rebuilding will likely be a lengthy process — one that families will find hard enough without the added strain of wondering where to find the next meal. USDA’s Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP) program can authorize states to offer temporary food benefits to households affected by the storm that may not otherwise qualify for food assistance. (For more on D-SNAP and the role of states and advocates, see here.) USDA can also grant supplementary benefits to existing SNAP recipients who may need a little extra help to get back on their feet after a disaster.
The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and child nutrition programs, including school meals, will also play important roles in providing children with continuous access to food in the affected area. WIC participants who evacuated their homes and lost food or baby formula that they bought with WIC can get replacement food benefits at any open WIC clinic.
USDA’s food assistance programs are designed to respond quickly and effectively to natural disasters, like Hurricane Harvey. SNAP’s entitlement structure, which allows the program to expand to accommodate unanticipated need, and the flexibilities that are built into food assistance programs, mean that families hard hit by disaster don’t also have to worry about food.