President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law on Friday and signaled to the millions of Americans who have struggled to put food on the table since the pandemic’s arrival that more help is on the way.
Of the $1.9 trillion in the legislation, $12 billion has been allocated to addressing the nation’s hunger and food insecurity crisis. Nearly 22.5 million American adults, or 10.5% of the population, reported there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat in the last seven days, according to the most recent Census Household Pulse data from February 17 to March 1.
That’s down from the pandemic-era high of 13.7% in December, largely because of the remaining effects of the $900 billion stimulus package passed at the end of 2020 that beefed up food assistance, extended key unemployment programs, and distributed $600 stimulus checks.
The new legislation provides an even bigger boost for struggling Americans.
“Through the American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration and Congress are making a substantial down payment in the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lauren Bauer, fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, told Yahoo Money.
Here’s what it means for Americans suffering from food insecurity.
SNAP benefits and other funding
The new legislation’s cornerstone aims to buoy the most vulnerable by extending the 15% increase to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through September 2021. December’s COVID relief package extended this increase only through June.
Since the pandemic’s onset, state SNAP administrative agencies have dealt with an onslaught of applications with meager resources, with some converting personnel to help process the high volume of cases. The bill provides $1.1 billion over a three-year period for states to support mounting administrative costs.
Another $5 million is earmarked for a tech platform system upgrade, so beneficiaries can expect the continued rollout of modern conveniences like integrating EBT cards with mobile payment and online purchasing for SNAP and WIC recipients.
The bill also addresses the elevated food needs in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories like American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands with $1 billion of grant funding — in addition to the $614 million from the December relief package — to meet the needs of residents.
Read more: Coronavirus: How to apply for food stamps
The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), the program that provides food packages to qualifying low-income elderly individuals across the country, Puerto Rico, and five Indian tribal organizations, will receive $37 million in support through the legislation.
Focusing on children
Food hardship has disproportionately affected households with children, and the long-term implications of malnourished and underfed children’s health and development are dire.
The number of children living in homes facing food scarcity has ballooned from 1.1 million in December 2019 to an estimated 11 million, according to an analysis of Census data from Zoë Neuberger, senior policy analyst at the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities.
The new legislation extends the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program — which provides eligible families the cash equivalency for groceries to offset free or reduced school meals their children are missing — through the end of the pandemic.
This is “an important tool to reduce the staggering number of children not getting enough to eat,” Neuberger said.
The legislation also invests in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program like raising the amount of fruits and vegetables participants can obtain for healthier living.
Indirectly, the expansion of key unemployment programs through the summer and another round of stimulus checks — this time for $1,400 per individual plus $1,400 for all dependents — could also help families suffering from food insecurity.
Some of the one-year tax changes in the bill like the expansion of the earned income tax credit, child tax credit, and child care tax credit could also blunt food insecurity in the long term if made permanent, according to Bauer.
“Making some of the temporary changes permanent and continuing to push forward on improving automatic stabilizers are both tactics that would improve America’s economic outlook,” she said.
Working in concert with the SNAP maximum benefit increase and the continuation of programs to support food insecure families, the “extensions will continue to put downward pressure on the historically high rates of food insecurity,” she added.