On Monday, Senate Republicans released their version of a fourth legislative package aimed at addressing the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis. Unfortunately, this bill falls far short of meeting the challenges many individuals and families are facing on a daily basis. It is unconscionable that the HEALS Act does not include a boost in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at a time when roughly 1 in 6 Massachusetts residents are struggling with hunger. Project Bread urges the Senate to reject this proposal and adopt legislation that increases SNAP and other critical basic needs programs.
“Food is a basic right, and everyone deserves access to sufficient, nutritious food as a matter of human dignity,” said Erin McAleer, President of Project Bread. “Ensuring access to food is also a matter of public health, education, and economic development. Put simply, our society cannot function at its healthiest, our students cannot learn, and our economy cannot operate at its best if we allow millions to go hungry. Hunger is not something we can accept, morally or practically.”
Even before this crisis, far too many individuals and families were unsure where their next meal would come from. In Massachusetts in 2018, 1 in 11 families (and 1 in 10 children) were in danger of going hungry. These numbers have roughly doubled since the start of the pandemic in March. As of June, 1 in 5 Massachusetts households with children wrestled with food insecurity. The numbers, as they were pre-pandemic, are worse for households of color: 1 out of every 3 Black and Latinx families with children faced hunger last month. This is twice the rate of white households facing the same grim situation.
As COVID-19 cases rise across the country, Project Bread and our partners brace for another surge in hunger. The Senate proposal fails to extend the full additional $600 per week in additional unemployment compensation. Instead it only provides an additional $200 per week until October. Pandemic unemployment compensation has kept many families afloat during this crisis and is set to expire at the end of July. This will hit Massachusetts particularly hard as the Commonwealth has the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 17.4%. In August, many of those households who have relied on expanded unemployment will be turning to food pantries that are already stretched thin by increased demand.
Fortunately, SNAP is designed to respond to crises big and small. Whenever families face economic hardships due to job loss, an unexpected bill, or a medical emergency, SNAP is available to help these families purchase their own groceries, allowing for the dignity of choosing food that is most appropriate for their particular health needs and cultural preferences. During a larger crisis, like the Great Recession, SNAP is able to scale up to support more families. While powerful, SNAP benefits are often insufficient. Congress recognized this in 2009 when it temporarily boosted benefits to help support families and bolster local economies. We are asking Congress to protect SNAP and provide a similar boost now by:
Increasing the minimum benefits for SNAP from $16 to $30 per month.
Increasing the maximum benefits for SNAP by at least 15%.
Suspending all SNAP administrative rules that would terminate or weaken benefits.
We remain grateful for the partnership and commitment of our Massachusetts Congressional delegation to support critical programs like SNAP. Project Bread asks that they stand firm in making sure that expanded SNAP benefits are part of the final package. We also urge Governor Baker to use his influence with Congress to insist that hunger is taken seriously for the people of Massachusetts.
Hungry individuals and families cannot wait. Project Bread urges Congress to do the right thing. Boost SNAP benefits, now!