In some ways, COVID-19 has reminded us that we are all connected. We are all making significant changes in our everyday lives when it comes to working, living and completing necessary tasks like grocery shopping for our families. Although we are all impacted by the coronavirus in one way or another, individuals who were already experiencing food insecurity before the pandemic are now facing a myriad of unanswered questions: Do I have sufficient food and water at home? Can I afford to invest in these staples? Do I have a stable, safe and secure living situation? Do I have the necessary resources to care for my own health as well as the welfare of my loved ones and my community? For some, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the most viable option for consistent access to healthy, nutritious food.
SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, provides nutrition benefits to supplement the grocery budget of families in need of food assistance so they can feed their families and move toward self-sufficiency. The program serves about 40 million people in America in a given year, providing timely, targeted and temporary benefits so that children, seniors, the disabled and low-income families and individuals have access to nutritious food. SNAP responds quickly to changes in our population, growing in response to increases in poverty and unemployment, and shrinking as the need is met and reduced.
SNAP is also a crucial response to hardships created by the COVID-19 pandemic. As food banks like ours serve on the front line to address the regular and now increased need for food, our mission-impact services are in extremely high demand. We anticipate the need for emergency food growing in the weeks and months ahead. Even before COVID-19, about 11 percent of U.S. households were considered food-insecure, meaning they didn’t have consistent access to sufficient food. COVID-19 is increasing this proportion for reasons including lost income and food price rises resulting from stockpiling and supply chain interruptions.
The cost of food at home is rising even faster as shelter-in-place requirements have raised demands at grocery stores and some goods are in limited supply. The cost of eating at home rose 0.5 percent for the second month, which is the fastest increase in nearly six years. Food prices moved higher by 0.3 percent in March. An article in The Wall Street Journal from April reported that, “egg prices for grocers across the U.S. averaged $3.01 a dozen at the end of last week, compared with 94 cents at the beginning of March, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.” Disruptions to food supply chains that are beginning to emerge from the health crisis may also exacerbate that for the months ahead.
On a national level, SNAP provides 10 meals for every one meal provided by a food bank. An increase in benefits can help to lessen the impact of the pandemic on those who are already experiencing food insecurity and socio-economic vulnerability. We need our policymakers to adjust the response efforts to make them more resilient, equitable and responsive to people’s basic food needs.
For instance, there was an increase in nutrition assistance benefits during the Great Recession that reduced hunger and financial distress. SNAP is one of the most rapid and effective forms of economic stimulus because the funds are expended in the immediate community, creating a boost in the local economy. Economists estimate that, in a weak economy, every SNAP dollar that households redeem expands the economy by about $1.70. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in 2009—the peak year of the last recession—$50 billion in SNAP benefits were spent in local stores, generating about $85 billion in local economic activity, even as the overall economy was struggling.
As a policy option for supporting those most in need, we recommend raising SNAP benefits and modestly expanding eligibility to address the effects of COVID-19 until the economy shows solid signs of recovering from the downturn. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act considered, but ultimately did not include the increase. We urge our lawmakers to ensure that the next stimulus package includes a 15 percent increase in the SNAP maximum allotment level. That’s about another $25 per person per month, or just under $100 per month in food assistance for a family of four, which would give key assistance to struggling families while helping boost the economy. We also encourage the incorporation of new SNAP provisions that will increase enrollment and the expansion of innovative delivery and redemption options (such as delivery via the new Online Purchasing Pilot).
Use this opportunity to tell your elected officials why the Foodbank and federal nutrition programs are important to your community. As stimulus legislation is being drafted and details negotiated, we’re asking you to raise your voice and contact our representatives and senators.
Send an email to your representatives in Congress and Senate:
Email Congresswoman Elaine Luria
Email Congressman A. Donald McEachin