While Congress staggers and debates what and when the next stimulus package will be for Americans, people are hungry. With unemployment rates hovering at 8.4% in August 2020 and the average everyday people facing homelessness by way of eviction people are lining up in record numbers to local food banks and pantries, and applying in equally staggering numbers for food assistance.
According to Yahoo Money, California and Texas reported 48% and 102% year-over-year increases in SNAP applications in March, while Nevada and Rhode Island applications jumped 23% and 77% when comparing the two previous 30-day periods. New York and Louisiana saw their weekly average for applications double and sextuple in mid-March.
Economists agree that “SNAP has proven to be one of the most effective mechanisms available both to reach low-income households and to provide counter cyclical help in recessions.”
Yet, although this is America’s devastating reality, Senate Republicans failed to include SNAP in their coronavirus relief proposal despite the rising demand during the pandemic.
More families have sought out food assistance during the Covid-19 pandemic which only highlighted the need for additional SNAP benefits. In June 2020, around 16 percent of households with children reported that their children were not eating enough over the last week due to a lack of resources. While the overall rate is the highest on record, Black and Latino children are experiencing food insecurity at even higher and extremely alarming rates. About three in ten Black households with children and one in four Latino households with children did not have sufficient food due to a lack of resources in June 2020, while white households with children reported a child food insecurity rate just under 10 percent.
We can address rising hunger by boosting the maximum SNAP benefit by 15%, increasing the minimum benefit and adjusting the income guidelines so more families qualify. What is often not understood is that children whose parents receive SNAP benefits typically also qualify for free or reduced lunch at school. So when these families have more food assistance in the home their children can also experience more food security during their school day ensuring their basic nutritional needs are being met. There also needs to be additional funding for nutrition programs that help families put food on the table like the Women’s Infants and Children’s Program (WIC) or more resources for local food banks and pantries.
The Senate’s Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools Act proposal known as (the Heals Act) does not expand the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, nor does it extend the Pandemic EBT program, a debit-card benefit for households with children who have temporarily lost access to free or reduced-price school meals. The Pandemic EBT program expired at the end of June.
Families dealing with food insecurity also suffer worse health incomes, especially in vulnerable populations. When children don’t have enough healthy food to eat, they suffer from asthma, anemia, behavioral changes and delayed development. For our older population, increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and heart attacks are more of a risk when faced with food insecurity.
In the midst of a worldwide pandemic we should be doing everything we can to ensure our health and safety. Facing the worst crisis since World War II, communities in the United States should not be starving too. Hunger is rising in America and increasing SNAP benefits by at least 15% could help more families put more food on the table. For the sake of our nation, let’s put people ahead of politics.