Congressional Dems want more federal cash to combat hunger during pandemic

The U.S. Capitol. Credit: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers want to prioritize food insecurity in the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation.

More than 100 lawmakers sent a letter Tuesday asking Democratic and Republican leaders of the U.S. House and Senate to boost the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit by 15 percent — a request Republicans rejected in the $2 trillion coronavirus response packaged signed into law last month.

“SNAP is one of our country’s most vital social safety nets, and it will continue to play a critical role in reducing hunger, malnutrition and poverty throughout the COVID-19 health crisis,” the House lawmakers wrote. Dozens of Democrats were joined on the letter by one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.

Several members of the Florida delegation signed on to the letter.

During the 2009 recession, Congress boosted the maximum benefit to $1.74 per person per meal, and Congress “must make a similar investment” now, they wrote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has voiced support for the effort, telling reporters last week that Democrats “did not get all that we wanted” for food and nutrition programs. “We have more needs, so we need more resources to feed the hungry.”

She called the absence of increased SNAP benefits in the last coronavirus package a “disappointment” at a news conference last month. “We were asking for a 15 percent increase in food stamps at this very fragile time for many families, [but] they wouldn’t do that in this bill.”

On Wednesday, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a joint statement laying out their priorities for an “interim emergency coronavirus relief” package. They called for “strong additional support for families with a 15 percent increase to the maximum SNAP benefit to help put food on the table.”

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not respond to requests for comment.

Pelosi and Schumer also called for $250 billion in assistance to small businesses, $100 billion for health care facilities and $150 billion for state and local governments to manage the crisis.

A previous COVID-19 response bill, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, includes billions of dollars for nutritional assistance for children and families and authorizes the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ease some restrictions, according to the agency.

“USDA is committed to maximizing our services and flexibilities to ensure children and others who need food can get it during this Coronavirus epidemic,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement. “This is a challenging time for many Americans.”

The USDA, the agency noted, has temporarily eased some rules, such as requirements that meals be served in group settings and at certain times of day; that children appear with parents to receive benefits; and that local operators meet certain “meal pattern” rules.