USDA to follow White House guidance on expanding food benefits |

USDA to follow White House guidance on expanding food benefits

An Agriculture Department spokesman said today that it would follow President Biden’s executive order requesting USDA take action to expand and improve nutrition benefits.

“As soon as the president took office, he called for immediate action on the hunger crisis gripping vulnerable families and children,” said Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Stacy Dean. “The announcement today provides more food dollars directly to food insecure kids living in low-income households who are missing critical meals due to school closures.”

In a news release, USDA said “In support of President Biden’s call to action on hunger and with authorities provided by Congress, USDA is increasing the Pandemic-EBT benefit by approximately 15%, providing more money for low-income families and millions of children missing meals.”

USDA added, “Separately, in response to this national emergency, USDA is looking at ways to increase Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to all participants, especially lowest-income households and those struggling to afford a healthy diet for their families.”

“As a part of the end-of-year COVID relief package, Congress bolstered food assistance programs, including boosting monthly SNAP benefits by 15% and provided new funding for food banks and school and childcare meals.

“USDA is committed to implementing these changes, but the measures alone will not solve the food hardship so many Americans are experiencing.

“Today, some 29 million adults and as many as 12 million children live in households struggling to afford food. More than 1 in 5 Black and Latino adults and many more children report food insecurity. These numbers continue to worsen each month. USDA is committed to working with states and supporting governors, school districts, food banks and other key partners to deploy food assistance to struggling families, children, seniors and people with disabilities in the months ahead.”

USDA descriptions of the action details

▪ P-EBT benefit increase — “Upon taking office, the Biden administration took immediate action to deploy the emergency resources and new flexibilities Congress has provided.“

“Established under Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed by Congress in March, the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) connects low-income families with kids with food dollars equivalent to the value of the meals missed due to COVID-related school and childcare closures.

“To date, the program has capped P-EBT benefit amounts at $5.86 per child per school day and many households have had trouble claiming benefits. USDA will increase the current daily benefit amount by approximately 15% to tackle the serious problem of child food insecurity during this school year when need is greatest.”

▪ SNAP emergency allotments to states — “Separately, USDA will begin working with the Department of Justice to review its authority to allow states to provide extra SNAP benefits through emergency allotments to the lowest-income households.“

“Last spring, Congress passed emergency increases to SNAP benefits to help address food insecurity during the pandemic. But those benefit increases have not been made available to the lowest-income households who make up 37% of SNAP households.

“Increasing SNAP benefits will not only help families most in need, but it is also a critical and effective form of economic stimulus. A recent USDA study found that in a slow economy, ‘$1 billion in new SNAP benefits would lead to an increase of $1.54 billion in Gross Domestic Product — 54% above and beyond the new benefits.’

“Moreover, SNAP benefits reduced the poverty rate by nearly 8% in 2009 and had a significant effect on reducing child poverty.”

▪ Revising the Thrifty Food Plan per 2018 farm bill — “Finally, some 43 million Americans count on SNAP to help put food on the table. Currently, however, USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, the basis for determining SNAP benefits, is out of date with the economic realities most struggling households face when trying to buy and prepare healthy food.”

“As a result, the benefits fall short of what a healthy, adequate diet costs for many households.

“Therefore, as directed by the 2018 farm bill, USDA will begin the process of revising the Thrifty Food Plan to better reflect the modern cost of a healthy basic diet. USDA believes federal nutrition programs and benefits should support a basic healthy diet.”

USDA also noted that, as part of his American Rescue Plan proposal, Biden is calling on Congress to:

▪ Extend the 15% SNAP benefit increase

▪ Invest another $3 billion through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to help vulnerable mothers and kids get the food they need

▪ Look for creative ways to support restaurants as a critical link in the food supply chain to help feed families in need

▪ Provide U.S. territories with $1 billion in additional nutrition assistance funding.

Share Our Strength Senior Vice President Lisa Davis said, “We are delighted to see the Biden administration taking swift action to address our nation’s hunger crisis. The most effective way to ensure families with children have enough to eat is by providing them with the resources to purchase the food they need.”

“Increasing SNAP and Pandemic EBT benefits will do this. And, since these benefits are spent quickly at local grocery stores and markets, they also stimulate local economies,” Davis said.

“We are also pleased they are addressing the inadequacy of the ‘Thrifty Food Plan,’ the calculation which determines benefits and which has kept them artificially low in recent decades.

“Established in the 1970s, this calculation makes unrealistic and outdated assumptions about the time families have to shop and prepare food, food availability, and food affordability, all of which are at odds with the realities of today’s struggling families.

“Finally, while we applaud the measures signed today, we also agree with the administration on the need to do more in the months ahead. The pandemic ripped a hole in our nation’s economy and destroyed the financial security and livelihoods of millions of Americans. It worsened hunger and hardship in Black and Latino communities, exacerbating existing disparities. And the hunger that children face today has the power to change the rest of their lives.

“We look forward to working with the White House, [Agriculture] Secretary [nominee Tom] Vilsack and the USDA to bring relief, food and hope to families in the weeks and months to come.”

–The Hagstrom Report

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