The winter holidays evoke images of families coming together to share festive meals, but newly released Census data paint a very different picture for some. This year, one in six households with children will have difficulty accessing food if lawmakers do not provide urgently needed relief.
Congress is currently negotiating the next COVID-19 relief package, and lawmakers somehow continue to disagree about the need for nutrition assistance. It is hard to understand how Congress could let so many families go hungry, and even more unfathomable when we remember that we have been asking this same question for months.
And it is not as if Congress doesn’t have a powerful, proven tool to address this hunger crisis. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s largest nutrition assistance program, through which eligible individuals receive an autoloaded electronic benefit transfer card to purchase food at their local retailer or farmers’ market. SNAP is the nation’s first line of defense against hunger, providing nine times the number of meals served by food banks and pantries.
Yet benefits are vastly inadequate, averaging $1.40 per meal, and do not accurately reflect the time and resources needed to prepare nutritious foods. Congress can fix this.
Increasing SNAP benefits would ease the stress on the charitable food system and decrease rampant food insecurity. It would also provide a much-needed economic boost because participants quickly spend benefits at local retailers and use freed-up income to pay for other essential needs. In fact, SNAP has been deemed by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to be one of the most effective economic supports during a weak economy: every $1 in federal SNAP spending generates at least $1.50 in economic activity.
Many on Capitol Hill understand the importance of boosting SNAP right now. In fact, the newly introduced Senate bipartisan relief package includes a 15 percent benefit increase (an average of an additional $25 per month), which would help the poorest 16 million SNAP recipients—who still have yet to see a benefit increase during the pandemic.
The bipartisan package also includes emergency funding for SNAP produce incentives (GusNIP), which can be spent on fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets and grocery stores. Emergency funding for GusNIP will help families put nutritious food on the table and support fruit and vegetable producers impacted by the pandemic.
How can lawmakers share holiday meals with their families knowing they’ve failed to help the millions struggling to put food on the table? Congress should not leave town until it passes comprehensive relief that includes these SNAP benefit enhancements to help hungry families. Relief cannot wait.
This post was written in collaboration with CSPI policy associate Maya Sandalow.