On Friday, President Biden issued an executive order to address the hunger crisis exacerbated by COVID-19.
We applaud President Biden for making this one of his first priorities upon taking office. In Massachusetts, 1 in 5 households with children are food insecure, double the rates prior to the pandemic. For Black and Latino households, the numbers are worse: 1 in 3 households with children are food insecure, double that of white households with children. While food insecurity has long been a crisis, COVID-19 has made the need to act even more dire.
These actions by the Biden Administration are commendable and necessary first steps to address food insecurity. Federal nutrition programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and child nutrition programs are designed to meet moments of crisis and are able to operate at a much larger scale than local charitable efforts. As of November, nearly 890,000 individuals received SNAP benefits and over 500,000 students received benefits under Pandemic EBT in Massachusetts.
Beyond their scale, programs such as SNAP and P-EBT provide the flexibility so families can have more say in where, what, when, and how they purchase groceries. Project Bread has long advocated for expanding access to and increasing the benefit amount of these programs, especially during this economic downturn, and these actions from President Biden are critical. Project Bread remains focused on ensuring families in MA are connected to these programs, we know from our work that up to 40% of people eligible for SNAP have not even applied. Project Bread is leading on an awareness campaign focused on directing people to Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline, the state’s only comprehensive source for food assistance. Assistance through the Hotline are confidential and available in 180 languages.
First, President Biden took a number of actions that he has authority to do, under executive order:
Directs the US Department of Agriculture to increase Pandemic EBT benefits by 15%
Currently in MA, approximately 500,000 students are eligible to receive P-EBT benefits because they would normally be able to receive free or reduced-price school meals. According to the Biden Administration, for a family with three children, this could mean $50 more every month.
Pushes USDA to work with the Department of Justice to explore ways to boost the emergency SNAP allotment
The emergency allotment is the additional benefit amount provided to SNAP households to bring them to the maximum benefit amount. Benefit amounts depend on household size. For example, a household of 3 receives $535 in benefits, or $615 thanks to the boost in the December COVID package passed by Congress. Unfortunately, under the Trump Administration, emergency allotments did not increase benefits for the lowest income SNAP households already receiving the maximum benefit. Nationally, this meant that 40% of people on SNAP did NOT get a bump because they already received the max benefit.
The Biden administration is exploring increasing benefits 15% to 20% for these households, based on household size. Project Bread supports this increase as a first step while the Administration and Congress look to permanently increase benefits. This increase would allow the families with the fewest resources to better meet the basic need of food. These are also the families most likely to run out of benefits and turn to emergency food programs, so providing an additional benefit would reduce the pressures on our emergency food system.
Directs USDA to begin to begin reevaluating the Thrifty Food Plan
The Thrifty Food Plan is the basis for how SNAP benefit amounts are determined. USDA publishes food plans based on the consumer price index and the monthly amount calculated under the Thrifty Food Plan is supposed to cover a household’s nutrition needs. Unfortunately, the nutrition science has not been updated for over 15 years and assumes that all food will be fully prepared at home, with families purchasing raw ingredients and making meals from scratch. This just does not match the needs or realities of most households, especially those in a high cost state like Massachusetts. According to the Center on Budget and Policy, the thrifty food plan assumes families will spend 138 minutes a day preparing food!! Most households only spend 36 minutes. It is past time for an update.
Extend the 15% SNAP benefit boost
This was passed by Congress in December, which increased SNAP benefits until June 30th, 2021. Prior to this boost, the average SNAP benefit was $1.40 per person, and this boost brought it to $2.30 per person. In his Rescue Plan, President Biden urged Congress to extend the boost through the federal fiscal year (September 30, 2021) and expressed support for extending the boost beyond that date until the economy recovers from this crisis. This would impact every household receiving SNAP - 888K people in Massachusetts.
Invest $3 billion into WIC
To account for increased enrollment due to growing hunger and to increase outreach to support more families.
Utilize restaurants to provide help to families in need
Through provisions included in the FEED Act, which is legislation sponsored by Massachusetts’ own Congressman McGovern, along with then Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Scott, and Congressmen Thompson and Davis. The FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries (FEED) Act “allows the Federal government to pay 100 percent of the cost to states and localities so that they can partner with restaurants and nonprofits to prepare nutritious meals for vulnerable populations, such as seniors and underprivileged children.”
We look forward to working alongside the Biden Administration and the Massachusetts delegation on these initial steps and the continued work ahead to address food insecurity in our state. Learn more about our current policy priorities.