More Texans would qualify for food stamps under a bill heading to Gov. Greg Abbott

Volunteers from neighboring small towns divide, box-up, and load their trucks with food from the Amarillo-based High Plains Food Bank for monthly delivery to Quitaque in June 2019. (Callie Richmond For The Texas Tribune, Callie Richmond For The Texas Tribune)

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Low-income Texans could soon have an easier time qualifying for food stamps under a bill the state Legislature approved on Friday.

The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program offers food assistance to low-income residents. Eligibility for SNAP is based on income, household size and citizenship status. But in Texas, families can be disqualified based on how much their vehicles are worth.

Current Texas limits cap the maximum value of a vehicle at $15,000 for the first vehicle and $4,650 for any additional vehicles. The limits have not been updated since 2001 for the primary car and not since 1974 for additional cars. Advocates say current limits are forcing families to choose between a reliable vehicle and feeding their families.

House Bill 1287 would make a one-time inflationary update to the maximum value of a vehicle a household can own before they’re disqualified from receiving food stamps. If the bill became law, families could qualify if their first vehicle was valued at $22,500 and if any additional vehicles were valued at $8,700.

“I really view this as not a handout but a hand up. … What we want people to do is to grow out of dependence on the government. You have to have transportation to do that,” said state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican and the chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “You have to have the ability to get to the job.”

Because SNAP is a federal program, the state will not incur additional costs with the implementation of the bill.

After the Senate approved the bill in a 27-4 vote on Wednesday, the House approved Senate changes to the bill on Friday. HB 1287 will now head to Gov. Greg Abbott. A gubernatorial spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether Abbott supports HB 1287.

HB 1287 cruised through the Legislature with bipartisan support, getting unanimous votes from House and Senate committees. The bill was authored by Republican state Rep. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City and sponsored by Democratic state Sen. César J. Blanco of El Paso. In the Senate, five Republicans signed on as co-sponsors to the bill.

More than 11,000 Texas households were denied SNAP because of the value of their vehicles in 2019, according to a Feeding Texas report. In 2022, 54,740 households were denied because of their vehicles, nearly five times as many denials despite little change in the total number of SNAP participants.

Inflation has driven up the price of food, utilities and vehicles. The price for a used vehicle jumped 28% from March 2021 to March 2022, according to Cox Automotive.

As a result of inflation driving up the value of their cars, thousands of families lost their SNAP benefits when they went to recertify, Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas, told The Texas Tribune.

“Inflation in the used car market was causing people with very limited income, who were struggling to put food on the table, to lose access to SNAP,” Cole said. “No family should lose their ability to put food on the table because of inflation and the car market.”

HB 1287 also impacts grandparents raising grandchildren who are struggling to make ends meet, but who also need a vehicle to get their grandchildren to school.

“This Texas rule … is increasingly preventing Texan families from being eligible for food benefits, straining the emergency food network and increasing hunger in all Texas counties,” Valerie Hawthorne, of the North Texas Food Bank, said during House committee testimony.

Disclosure: Feeding Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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