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z 0 130 0 c >. _o Austin In the brush of the Rio Grande Valley, a young boy forages for “nopalitos ,” cactus leaves that will be the only food his family eats that day. An elderly East Texas woman tries to stretch a single home-delivered meal from Friday through the weekend because she has no other source of food. A South Texas mother puts her children to bed without supper because she has nothing in the house to feed them. TO THESE TEXANS and millions of others, hunger is an acute and constant problem. The Texas Legislature took a first tentative step toward confronting the reality of hunger in the state when, on August 31, Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby named a special committee of the Texas Senate to study the problem. The four= member Interim Committee on Hunger and Nutrition in Texas plans a year-long investigation, which will include hearings on hunger around the state. The committee’s findings, along with recommendations for legislative action, will be presented to the 69th Legislature that convenes in January 1985. A host of topics awaits the committee. Millions of low-income Texans are in need of dietary assistance, but only a small percentage of them are getting it through a confusing panoply of local, state and federal programs. In spite of recent growth, the food stamp program still reaches barely 30% of those Texans in need. The distribution of government surplus commodities, which provides only limited items of dubious nutritional value, has been fraught with problems in Texas. The rapidly developing network Zy Weinberg is director of the non-profit Anti-hunger Coalition of Texas. of food banks in the state has increased food supplies to the needy somewhat, but its only begun to scratch the surface. And local mechanisms to develop food resources, particularly for the poor, are rare or non-existent. “I don’t think anybody in Texas wants people to go hungry,” state Senator Hugh Parmer, who was appointed to chair the committee, noted recently. “One of my concerns is that the cuts in federal programs have had more serious effects than expected.” Indeed, Texas experienced a nearly $80 million loss in federal food and nutrition aid in 1982 alone, according to figures compiled by the AntiParmer said two major purposes of the committee will be “to measure the impact of cuts from the federal level,” and to examine the nature and extent of hunger in Texas. Named to the committee along with Parmer, a Fort Worth Democrat, are state Senators Hector Uribe \(D-Brownssponsored a resolution this spring to create a joint food and nutrition committee of the House and Senate, but it did not pass during the legislature’s regular session. He was able to get the hunger committee established when the Senate Administration Committee, of which Parmer and Whitmire are members, approved on Aug. 25 a budget for an interim board. A New Era in the Legislature The hunger panel will actually be a special subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources, the committee responsible for initiating much of the human services legislation put in place in Texas in recent years. The subcommittee led by Parmer may be the beginning of some positive state action to help provide more food and food State Senator Hugh Parmer resources for the state’s poor. Parmer believes that “if the cuts in federal programs in Washington have resulted in a significant number of Texans not getting enough to eat, then the Legislature and State of Texas are morally obligated to fill that gap.” Historically, Texas has been less than enthusiastic about spending money on food for its citizens. Sen. Uribe agrees that the situation may be changing. “I see the dawning of a new era in the Texas legislature,” he said. “Five years ago, the Texas legislature was a very conservative group. After redistricting, that’s not the case anymore. The legislature is no longer controlled by conservative, rural interests. If anything it is controlled now by urban, moderate interests. I think there’s a great deal more sensitivity .. . toward many of these social service issues. I am hoping that the Texas legislature will assume its responsibility in this area.” The fulfillment of Sen. Uribe’s hopes, however, also depends on ‘the House of Representatives, which, in an unusual turnabout this session, has dealt with social service issues more conservatively than the Senate. Although the House has offered cooperation with the Senate study, it will basically be a one-chamber endeavor. House Speaker Gib Lewis’ desire to trim legislative expenses forestalled the establishment of a number of joint committees proposed during the session. Senate committee created Getting Food to Hungry Texans By Zy Weinberg THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3