Biden's rescue plan uses 'most effective tool' to combat hunger — but leaves out key aid

Stephanie Asymkos
·Reporter
·4 min read

Part of Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus plan he proposed last week includes measures to confront the growing hunger crisis in the U.S. But the effort may not reach every American facing food insecurity.

Read more: Here's what's in Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion 'rescue plan' that could help your wallet

The share of U.S. adults who sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days hit 13.7% — or nearly 30 million Americans — in the middle of December, the highest level since the pandemic began, according to the latest data available from the Census Bureau.

Biden’s plan would work to blunt those numbers by extending the 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through September, helping 43 million beneficiaries.

Corpl. James Bates carries a box of groceries to a car at a food bank distribution by the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Corpl. James Bates carries a box of groceries to a car at a food bank distribution by the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

“SNAP is the most effective tool we have for combating food insecurity and too many families are struggling to put food on the table in America today,” said Lauren Bauer, fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution.

Still, not everyone qualifies for SNAP and “the food insecurity crisis cannot be solved by the federal nutrition assistance programs alone” Bauer said. “It will be a long time before rates of household food insecurity reach pre-pandemic levels.”

‘Extraordinary circumstances of this year’

State SNAP agencies across the country are still seeing increased application volume that hasn’t relented since last March.

Case in point: Rhode Island saw a monthly average of just under 4,040 applications in 2020 with applications surging to roughly 4,700 applications from September to November, a spokeswoman from the state’s Department of Human Services shared with Yahoo Money.

Photo by: John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx 2020 12/26/20 People are seen rummaging through leftover Food Bank boxes in Flushing Borough of Queens, a day after Christmas Day on December 26, 2020.
Photo by: John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx 2020 12/26/20 People are seen rummaging through leftover Food Bank boxes in Flushing Borough of Queens, a day after Christmas Day on December 26, 2020.

“Both averages and the participation data further confirm there is a need, and the Rhode Island Department of Human Services is committed to helping all our residents who could benefit from SNAP or any of our programs,” said Alisha Pina, the department’s chief public affairs officer.

In New York, one of the country’s first coronavirus hotspots, March 2020 SNAP enrollment was 2,561,187. According to the state’s most recent data, October enrollment was 2,781,742, accounting for a nearly 9% increase.

Read more: 'Money, Honestly' podcast: Battling food insecurity amid the pandemic

Louisiana’s SNAP agency served an all-time high of 456,000 households last month. That was 26% more beneficiaries in the February-November period than the previous year, breaking a steady four-year decline in the number of families receiving assistance.

“The extraordinary circumstances of this year called for extraordinary measures on behalf of the families we serve,” said Marketa Garner Walters, the secretary of the state’s Department of Children and Family Services, in a press statement. “Every step we could take to minimize the crises’ impact and maximize support for our families, we took it.”

‘Spending is targeted to those who really need it’

A woman holds up a "Thank You" sign as she gets her car loaded with groceries at a food bank distribution by the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
A woman holds up a "Thank You" sign as she gets her car loaded with groceries at a food bank distribution by the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Government assistance programs like SNAP provide relief to millions, but for those whose incomes or household size exceed the program’s benefit threshold but still struggle with hunger, the nation’s food banks step in to meet the need.

Over the last 10 months, the tremendous influx of clients has been felt across the country with the Houston Food Bank reporting as much as a 171% increase in clients from 2019 to 2020.

Read more: Coronavirus: How to apply for food stamps

Brian Greene, president and CEO of Houston Food Bank, welcomes the SNAP benefits extension, adding “the more the spending is targeted to those who really need it, the better.”

The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank has seen a 145% increase in distributions, much of the food going to those who don’t currently qualify for SNAP and would not directly be helped by Biden’s proposal.

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“We strongly support the SNAP benefit extension,” said, Michael Flood, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. But “we are also advocating for increased funding for ÚSDA commodity programs, so food banks can meet the demand for food assistance in our communities.”

So far, Biden’s proposal doesn’t include that extra funding.

Of course, the most effective measure in combating the hunger crisis is when “the virus is eradicated,” Bauer said, “children are back in school, earnings are sufficient, and SNAP, Pandemic EBT, and the host of other nutrition assistance programs are reaching eligible households with adequate benefit amounts.”

Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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