April 6, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic presents a twin threat to public health and the American economy. It is creating significant challenges for 37 million people across the country who are living in food-insecure households and for untold others who are on the brink of poverty, which is the root cause of hunger. Social distancing, decreased work opportunities, and school, child care, and senior center closures are exacerbating the struggles of families that were already wondering how they will put their next meal on the table, and do not have the resources to stockpile food during this crisis.

Many of us are asking, “What can we do to make sure no one goes hungry?” Several of us, including myself, have decided to donate to relief organizations, like Feeding America and local food charities, because they do an amazing job quickly getting food to those in need.

But is this enough?

Even before this pandemic, for every meal provided though the Feeding America network, nine were provided through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). And with food banks already experiencing huge increases in need, it is clear that charity alone can’t carry the load of demand, which is why Feeding America also is joining in pushing for more SNAP funding.

A key part of the answer to the question, “what can I do to help ensure no one goes hungry?” is to ensure that federal nutrition programs, such as SNAP, WIC, school meals, and child care meals, are given all the power, strength, and flexibility warranted to respond to the economic turmoil and increased need.

There is considerable evidence that documents the effective role that the federal nutrition programs play in reducing food insecurity and poverty, and in providing the nutrients needed for overall health. In fact, our nation’s food assistance programs do double duty: they feed the hungry and stimulate the economy at the same time.

The value of SNAP’s effective and quick economic impact was demonstrated during the Great Recession when benefits were temporarily boosted through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Research shows that during an economic downturn, each $1 of SNAP benefits leads to between $1.50 and $1.80 in total economic activity.

This is why FRAC and its network of advocates across the country continue to work tirelessly to ensure that Congress prioritizes hungry households in any emergency legislation. We know that these programs work and that their original design is well suited to respond quickly and efficiently to the needs of an economic downturn and a health pandemic.

Advocacy efforts already are taking hold.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed March 18, is an adequate first step in addressing the public health and economic crisis, and in helping people put food on the table and stay safe during the COVID-19 emergency.

The recently enacted $2 trillion CARES Act includes key investments that will provide some relief to workers, health care providers, and state, local, and tribal governments.

In the next stimulus bill, lawmakers need to take the following important actions:

  • provide a 15 percent boost to the maximum SNAP benefit;
  • increase the minimum monthly SNAP benefit to $30; and
  • suspend administrative actions that would eliminate or weaken SNAP benefits.

Such boosts and new investments are critical to ensuring the well-being of vulnerable people and the economy.

These changes can only come about if policymakers know and understand the needs of people who are dealing with this crisis first-hand. Furthermore, in order for these funds to be effective, they need to be accessible. Both of these functions are provided through the network of national and regional advocacy organizations.

Advocacy organizations have the ear of policymakers, and a strong base of support enhances their ability to drive more resources to these incredibly effective programs. Moreover, many of these organizations also help people access these benefits, many of whom will be first-time recipients whose wages have been reduced due to COVID-19.

For instance, Maryland Hunger Solutions, an initiative of FRAC, has an infrastructure to help address the challenge. The organization’s toll-free number — 1-866-821-5552 — can be accessed anywhere in the state. The number is being promoted by the state SNAP agency, the Maryland Department of Human Services. Residents across the state wishing to apply for SNAP (known as the Food Supplemental Program in Maryland) can call the toll-free number and Maryland Hunger Solutions staff will walk them through the application process. Staff also are connecting callers with other much-needed resources, such as pantries and food banks in their local community.

As we get deeper into the pandemic’s economic impact, the reach of the nutrition programs will become even more critical. You can be part of the solution.

  • Call your Members of Congress and urge them to boost SNAP benefits in the next stimulus package.
  • Reach out to your local anti-hunger advocacy organization to see how you can best support them.
  • Stay informed with FRAC’s one-stop resource for the latest updates on addressing food insecurity during the pandemic.

Together, we can make a difference by advocating for solutions that will make these challenging times better and brighter.