Dec 21, 2022
Anti-hunger advocates and economists are lauding the permanent food assistance program for children in summer months--included in the $1.7 trillion spending package unveiled Tuesday--as an historic victory in the fight against food insecurity, while also noting that the funding mechanism for the plan will sharply reduce federal pandemic-era food benefits for people across the country.
The omnibus spending legislation that's being debated by the U.S. Senate Wednesday would create a "Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer" (EBT) debit card program for low-income families, providing a monthly $40 per child grocery benefit that would be adjusted for inflation over time.
Roughly 30 million children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches would be automatically enrolled in the program, which would help their families to afford food in the summer--when low-income households have been shown to struggle with food insecurity at higher rates than during the school year.
\u201cMake no mistake, there is more work to be done and the compromise reached is not our ideal, but summer EbT and non-congregate summer feeding as permanent programs is a historic win for child food security.\u201d— J. Chris Bernard (@J. Chris Bernard) 1671576949
The bill includes a provision allowing rural families to have summertime school meals delivered rather than having to pick them up--a requirement that has historically left 6 in 7 low-income children unable to access summer meals.
The Summer EBT program represents "a historic investment in the nutrition, education, and well-being" of millions of children, wrote Zoe Neuberger and Katie Bergh, senior policy analysts at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
"Lawmakers should have looked to other offsets, including the revenue system, rather than ending these temporary food assistance benefits in this manner."
But a trade-off included in the spending package, cutting off pandemic-era increases to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits--often called food stamps--is "troubling," added Neuberger and Bergh.
"The new permanent Summer EBT benefit is paid for by ending temporary emergency SNAP benefits (known as emergency allotments) earlier than expected," they wrote on Tuesday. "These emergency SNAP benefits have helped some of those whom the pandemic hit hardest afford groceries, but will now stop at the end of February instead of continuing (in states that would have chosen to do so) as long as the public health emergency is in place. Lawmakers should have looked to other offsets, including the revenue system, rather than ending these temporary food assistance benefits in this manner."
If the spending package passes, families who have benefited from boosted SNAP benefits will lose an average of $82 per person, per month.
The elimination of the program is expected to hit senior citizens hardest, with people who receive the minimum benefit seeing their monthly benefits plummeting from $281 to just $23.
"Food banks are going to be overrun" as they were when the coronavirus pandemic began, said John Corlett, president of the Center for Community Solutions in Ohio.
\u201cWow, Congress is poised to approve stunning #SNAP cuts as early as March, 2023. 675,000 Ohioans could see their SNAP benefits drop by almost $120 million a month per language in the pending omnibus spending bill. Food banks are going to be overrun.\u201d— John Corlett (@John Corlett) 1671563987
Crystal FitzSimons, a policy analyst with the Food Research and Action Center, noted that the public health emergency for which the SNAP emergency allotments were introduced "is not over," with the official designation currently in effect through January 11, 2023, having been renewed every 90 days since January 2020.
"Cutting SNAP to pay for child nutrition is not the right choice," FitzSimons toldThe Washington Post on Wednesday. "We still are in a public health emergency. These allotments have been a huge benefit to families to make ends meet at a time when we're still reeling from the impacts of the pandemic."
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who pushed for the inclusion of the Summer EBT program, said in a statement that lawmakers' work to address food insecurity "is far from over."
"I remain committed to passing a comprehensive child nutrition reauthorization," said Stabenow, "and also protecting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as we begin work on the 2023 Farm Bill."
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