Every year, millions of Americans mark Martin Luther King Jr Day, a national day of service, by volunteering their time and energy in memory of the civil rights leader. This year, President Biden and Vice President Harris made the day a part of their inaugural activities, calling on Americans to “to unite and serve at a time when the global pandemic calls on all of us to work together and support our communities.” President Biden chose to kick off his inaugural week by helping to bag food for those in need at Philabundance, a food bank in Philadelphia, as an important acknowledgment of the growing crisis in our country.
But the critical question now is – will this administration’s commitment to addressing food insecurity extend beyond charity, to the systemic barriers that have kept people, disproportionately people of color, living meal to meal, unsure if they can afford food for their families? We received some indication when, then President-Elect Biden released the “American Rescue Plan” ahead of the inauguration, which includes provisions to address the nation’s hunger crisis, to lift our economy, and bring more cash assistance to families in need.
During his speech outlining the plan, Biden said, “As I speak, and the Vice President Elect has spoken to this many times, one in seven households in America, more than one in five Black and Latino households in America, report they don’t have enough food to eat. This includes 30 million adults and as many as 12 million children. It’s wrong, it’s tragic, it’s unnecessary, it’s unacceptable.”
President Biden’s proposal includes an extension of the 15% boost to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits as long as the pandemic continues--pushing it out until at least September of 2021. It invests an additional $3 million dollars, over a few years, to ensure that women, infants and children get the nutrition that they need through the Special Supplement Nutrition Program for Women, Infant, and Children WIC. His proposal also includes adding additional funding to Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) to help states cover the cost of an increased caseload due to the pandemic, providing low-income families with more financial assistance. Each of these programs represent some of our country’s best defense against rising food insecurity and their inclusion in the proposal is promising.
While we applaud the new administration for these proposals, they are only first steps in addressing the elevated levels of food insecurity. We urge the administration to include an extension to Pandemic EBT through September 2021 to help families of school aged children purchase groceries during the summer and the start of the 2021-2022 school year if schools continue to be fully or partially remote.
We are grateful that the new administration chose to kick off this important week of activities by highlighting the crisis of rising food insecurity across the country. We are encouraged that the “American Rescue Plan” includes important steps to address the systemic causes of hunger and invests in our nation’s most effective anti-hunger programs– the federal nutrition programs. We look forward to building on this initial gesture and working with the Biden-Harris Administration to ensure that continued efforts to lift food insecurity and ensure that no one goes hungry are at the forefront of this administration’s first 100 days and beyond.