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With Food Insecurity on the Rise, Pingree Joins Push to Expand SNAP Eligibility & Increase Minimum Monthly Benefit

Washington, June 30, 2020

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) joined 165 of her House colleagues in pushing House and Senate leadership to boost and protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in increased food insecurity and unprecedented demand at food banks. Full text of the letter is available here and at the end of this release.

The lawmakers wrote: “SNAP is the largest and most effective nutrition program in the country, serving as our nation’s first line of defense against hunger and food insecurity. According to the latest Census data, SNAP lifted 3.4 million individuals out of poverty in 2017, including 1.5 million children. A majority of SNAP participants, nearly 70 percent, are families with children and research also demonstrates 74 percent of adult SNAP participants are working or have worked within a year of SNAP participation.”

The lawmakers continued: “Overwhelmed food banks and emergency food providers across the country are racing to fill the immediate need, but they cannot match the reach of SNAP. According to Feeding America “for every one meal that the nation’s network of food banks provides, SNAP provides twelve.”  With so many American impacted by this crisis, it is critical that Congress work to provide a sustainable safety net that ensures a basic level of nutritional support for those struggling in our communities.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused food insecurity to double among all households and triple among households with children according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The letter specifically asks that the next COVID-19 response legislation increases the maximum SNAP benefit by 15 percent and increases the minimum monthly benefit from $16 to $30 during the pandemic. SNAP is not only a way to decrease hunger, but is shown to have positive economic effects as well; though benefits average approximately $1.40 per person per meal, recent studies suggest every $1 of SNAP benefits spent during an economic downturn generates between $1.50 and $1.80 in economic activity.  

The Good Shepherd Food Bank estimates that Maine residents experiencing food insecurity will rise by up to 39 percent during 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Congresswoman Pingree has prioritized food security from the earliest days of COVID-19 response; on March 11, she and seven other House members introduced the Ensuring Emergency Food Security Act, which would provide a temporary increase in SNAP benefits, expand food distribution in Indian Country, and suspend work requirement time limits during the pandemic. Pingree and the Maine delegation have also called on USDA to fix the shortcomings of the Farmers to Families Food Box program to help alleviate food insecurity for Mainers.

The letter is available online here and below:

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McCarthy, Leader McConnell, and Leader Schumer,

As you consider additional measures to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge you to boost and protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to address rising food insecurity and unprecedented demand at area food banks. Specifically, we ask you to increase the maximum SNAP benefit by 15 percent and increase the minimum monthly benefit to $30 throughout the duration of this crisis, as well as suspend administrative rules with the potential to weaken program eligibility.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused food insecurity to double among all households and triple among households with children according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In just nine weeks, the jobless rate is now the highest since the Great Depression with 38.6 million people having sought jobless benefits. Among job losses and other health and economic strains on families, the cost of groceries has seen its highest one-month increase in almost 50 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic's monthly Consumer Price Index report. This is a tipping point for families who are already struggling to stretch their food dollars.

The crisis has further deepened the inequities that existed long before the onset of the pandemic, with households of color disproportionately impacted. In April 2020, more than one in three households with children, and approximately two in five Black and Hispanic households with children, were food insecure. With schools and childcare centers closed, families are stretched even further to find the resources needed to feed their children who regularly receive meals at school and childcare.

SNAP is the largest and most effective nutrition program in the country, serving as our nation’s first line of defense against hunger and food insecurity. According to the latest Census data, SNAP lifted 3.4 million individuals out of poverty in 2017, including 1.5 million children. A majority of SNAP participants, nearly 70 percent, are families with children and research also demonstrates 74 percent of adult SNAP participants are working or have worked within a year of SNAP participation. Though benefits average approximately $1.40 per person per meal, recent studies suggest every $1 of SNAP benefits during an economic downturn generates between $1.50 and $1.80 in economic activity.

Increasing SNAP benefits is a proven effective way to address hunger and pump money back into the economy, particularly during an economic downtown. According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, after Congress increased SNAP benefits in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, the prevalence of food insecurity fell by 2.2 percentage points among low-income households and the prevalence of very low food security fell by 2.0 percentage points. The ARRA boost also helped increase food expenditures by 5.4 percent among low-income households.

Overwhelmed food banks and emergency food providers across the country are racing to fill the immediate need, but they cannot match the reach of SNAP. According to Feeding America “for every one meal that the nation’s network of food banks provides, SNAP provides nine.” With so many American impacted by this crisis, it is critical that Congress work to provide a sustainable safety net that ensures a basic level of nutritional support for those struggling in our communities.

 For this reason, we request the immediate consideration of legislation that will make critical investments in SNAP at a time when people need it most. Specifically, we believe that Congress must take up provisions to strengthen SNAP, bolster vulnerable communities across the country, and give a hand up to millions of people facing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.


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