UPDATED September 4, 2020
Labor Day traditionally honors America’s workers. It reminds us annually how important jobs, decent pay, and safe working conditions are for our nation. This Labor Day, too many of our fellow Americans are struggling with job loss, cutbacks in hours, and food hardship. Unemployment was higher in August than in February, by 4.9 percentage points and 7.8 million people. Hardship is particularly acute among Black- and Latinx-headed households.
COVID-19’s disruption of America’s economy threatens high levels of food hardship and unemployment for months and years to come. Instead of standing by and watching this dismal economic performance, the federal government can and should intervene to limit the depth and duration of hardship and recession.
The road map for a smart federal fiscal intervention is already pending. It’s the HEROES Act that passed the House in May.
It would boost Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) maximum benefit levels by 15 percent, increase the SNAP minimum monthly benefit from $16 to $30, and suspend SNAP time limits and rules changes that would cut SNAP benefits. In addition to SNAP, the HEROES Act provides funding for state and local fiscal relief and for unemployment insurance. And it would make sure that Pandemic Unemployment Compensation would be restarted without those payments counting against SNAP income eligibility.
Economists long have agreed that SNAP is one of America’s strong countercyclical tools. Indeed, Howard University Professor and AFL-CIO Chief Economist Dr. William Spriggs told WHUR that programs like unemployment insurance and food assistance are not just there for the individual but as “a safety net for the economy.”
Each $1 in SNAP benefits during economic downturns between $1.50 and $1.80 in economic activity. The bang for the buck from SNAP increases kicks in quickly, as low-income families pay for food at grocery stores and farmers’ markets. The impact is felt throughout the food chain, from farmers and food producers to truckers, food retailers, and store employees.
SNAP benefit boosts also make a difference for state and local budgets. When SNAP benefits pay for customers’ food, they can use their other resources to pay for non-food basics that often are subject to sales tax.
This Labor Day, we all need HEROES. Tell the Trump Administration and Members of Congress to #BoostSNAPNow and get America back to work.