The next COVID-19 relief bill has to include a big boost to food aid
The second coronavirus relief bill passed back in March (the one Mitch McConnell blew off for two weeks so he could politick in Kentucky with his favorite unqualified judges) included critical food assistance boosts, temporary increases in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for many households, as well as a loosening of procedures for states so that they could provide more assistance. But that hasn't been enough, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains. The benefits haven't reached everyone who needs them and aren't generous enough to make sure that families can afford all the food they need.
The temporary "emergency allotments" included in the Families First bill didn't reach the poorest households. The law included a provision that lets states give emergency allotments up to the maximum, but not to allow families with very low incomes already receiving maximum benefits to get more. The lowest-income households, which CBPP says are about 40% of those receiving SNAP benefits were left out of the increases. That includes at least 5 million children.
The emergency allotments are going to stop once the public health emergency is over, if that ever happens, but the economic crisis is likely to continue for months, if not years, the CBO has predicted. The neediest families will be the last to see the benefits of recovery. For even low-income workers, particularly in the service industry, having jobs to return to is questionable. Reverting benefits isn't going to be enough to keep families from going hungry.
In addition, food prices have been increasing and until the economy can be fully restored and the supply chain is back to normal, those prices aren't likely to come down. At the same time, incomes have fallen and millions more have required food assistance. The crisis is setting millions—particularly low-income and Black, Indigenous, and families of color—back economically, with past-due rent and utilities and student loans and everything else. These hardships are going to last years without concerted and long-term action from Congress. That includes, for the short-term anyway, the 15% SNAP benefit boost that House Democrats included in their HEROES Act back in May, a bill Mitch McConnell is still ignoring.
Getting these families back on their feet, and making sure that they've got enough to eat and money to spend on food, is essential to getting the economy working again. It's money, like unemployment benefits, that gets poured back quickly into the local economy.
It would also mean people aren't going hungry, which isn't going to be much of an incentive for McConnell and his Republicans, because when has it ever, but nonetheless would be good.