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Who received most of DSNAP benefits in wake of Hurricane Harvey?

Furthermore, how could people outside eligible counties receive those benefits?

On Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, at least 1,000 people lined up before sunrise in hopes of receiving disaster food-relief benefits at Greenspoint Mall.
On Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, at least 1,000 people lined up before sunrise in hopes of receiving disaster food-relief benefits at Greenspoint Mall.

HOUSTON – In the immediate wake of the Hurricane Harvey disaster, the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or DSNAP, became one of the first types of aid offered help to victims.

DSNAP provides temporary funds to help qualified recipients buy groceries for one or two months. To qualify for DSNAP, recipients must have lived in one of the 39 eligible counties impacted by Hurricane Harvey, suffered a loss such as damage to a home or loss of income, met income guidelines and not already have been enrolled in the regular SNAP program that many still refer to as “food stamps.”

You will recall that for days, massive lines formed to sign up in person for the help. Records from the state show a total of 1,683,520 individuals got $549,490,756 in benefits.

Here’s a look at the top 10 ZIP codes receiving benefits for August and September, according to the state’s Excel spreadsheet of unduplicated recipients.

County
ZIP Codes
Recipients
Dollars Issued
Harris
77015
22,592
$7,268,133.00
Harris
77449
21,627
$6,889,779.00
Harris
77093
21,202
$6,824,672.00
Harris
77088
20,745
$6,766,402.00
Harris
77084
20,759
$6,674,149.00
Harris
77060
20,018
$6,516,019.00
Jefferson
77642
19,275
$6,375,804.00
Harris
77036
18,108
$5,886,404.00
Nueces
78415
17,392
$5,827,598.00
Harris
77073
17,798
$5,753,783.00

 

We also recreated an interactive map (below) with that data, that lets you hover over a dot for each ZIP code where the state’s records show there were recipients.

Click or tap on the dot to see its total number of people in that ZIP that received DSNAP benefits and the total dollar figure of those benefits.

NOTE: The Texas Health and Human Services Commission had data entry and geo-coding errors that affected the accuracy of this information (see below).

 

 

DSNAP funding comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was administered by the HHSC.

Privacy rules prevent releasing the names and addresses of DSNAP recipients, but ZIP codes are available, so we asked HHSC for the total dollar amount and number of recipients per ZIP code for Hurricane Harvey.

ZIP codes also provide a better picture of where benefits went, rather than examining a single, countywide count.

The first thing we did was match the ZIP codes to the counties they cover. Something unexpected immediately popped out: There were a lot of ZIP codes from outside the 39 eligible counties.

Those ZIP codes were all over the state. We pressed HHSC for answers about how it could appear that people outside the eligible counties got DSNAP benefits.

In an email, HHSC spokesperson Kelli Weldon said the agency went back and manually matched the paper applications associated with ZIP codes outside the eligibility zone to the database it provided to us.

The agency found errors caused by its own data entry, such as putting in the ZIP code of where a recipient is now staying, instead of the ZIP code where that person lived during Hurricane Harvey.

Weldon said the agency also had issues with its geo-coding software.

“If the ZIP code and county provided on the application did not match up with the ZIP code and county affiliated with that street/city address in the geo-coding software, the software changed the ZIP and county to match its information," Weldon said.

Editor's note: The video attached to this article has been updated to correct a misspelling.