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Congressional COVID-19 package includes key anti-hunger investments, more still needed

December 22, 2020

December 22, 2020 — Last night, Congress passed a bipartisan COVID-19 relief bill that makes critical investments in the social safety net. Almost a year since the catastrophic public health and subsequent economic and hunger crises began, more and more people have been pushed further into poverty and hunger. Right now, 1 in 4 Californians are experiencing food insecurity, with even greater rates of hunger experienced by Black and Latinx communities. 

Together, with our member food banks, we thank Speaker Pelosi, Congresswoman Lofgren, and Congresswoman Lee for their unwavering commitment and months of leadership in pushing for meaningful investments in SNAP and other essential food programs. We also applaud the entire California delegation for this historic bipartisan vote, as well as Congressman Panetta and Congressman Costa for prioritizing SNAP and other food support in this legislation needed to fight the impact of the multi-layered crisis. 

While the COVID-19 relief bill passed last night recognizes and provides support for the unimaginable challenges faced by Americans across the country today, this pandemic is expected to have long-term economic and unemployment impacts that will be felt for a long time to come.

Below is a summary of key highlights, drawn from a full summary published by Senator Stabenow and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.

Public Benefits:

  • SNAP: Provides a 15% increase in SNAP benefits for six months (through June 30, 2021) for all SNAP participants. In addition;
    • Excludes unemployment compensation from being counted as income for the purposes of calculating SNAP benefits and eligibility.
    • Provides college students access to SNAP by waiving requirements that apply only to students and giving them access to SNAP similar to impacted workers with reduced work hours due to COVID-19.
  • P-EBT: Includes improvement to Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) that will expand access to food benefits for children by allowing all children under age 6 to be deemed “enrolled” in child care and eligible for P-EBT benefit. The bill also clarifies what constitutes a “closure”  making it easier to reach school-aged children with P-EBT assistance when schools are shifting between in-person, virtual, and hybrid schooling.
  • GusNIP: Supports healthy food purchases by including $75 million for the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) and provides additional flexibilities to directly respond to COVID-19 by incentivizing purchases of fruits and vegetables by SNAP participants which supports farmers and retailers and stimulates local economies.

Emergency Food Investments:

  • Food purchases: Supports food purchases, donations, and worker protection by including no less than $1.5 billion to fund purchases of food for distribution to those in need, and to provide worker protection measures, and retooling support for farmers, farmers markets, and food processors. Includes a mandatory review of USDA food purchasing and distribution. 
  • TEFAP: Provides $400 million for food banks through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) with up to 20 percent for distribution of commodities.
  • CSFP: Provides $13 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) with up to 20 percent for State administrative expenses.
  • Home delivered meals: Provides $175 million for nutrition services for older adults under the Older Americans Act, such as Meals on Wheels.

While we are incredibly grateful for this relief bill, as we head into a new year and a glimmer of hope shines with a vaccine, the harsh reality for many remains largely the same. We are in a full-blown hunger crisis. We know from the Great Recession that hunger lingers years after the economy begins to recover. Hunger finally returned to pre-recession levels just before COVID-19 struck

In order to keep Californians healthy and nourished throughout the entire recovery process, we will continue to work with Congress to strengthen our social safety net and our food banks will remain on the frontlines, continuing to serve the increased need for food in our communities. We are in this for the long haul — not months, but years. 

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