Even before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity plagued communities across the country. The problem worsened dramatically in 2020, as families lost jobs, unemployment skyrocketed and the economy came to a grinding halt.
According to a new report by the nonprofit organization Hunger Free America, between March and July of this year, the total caseload of SNAP recipients shot up from 30.8 million to 35.2 million, a 14 percent increase.
More than 11 percent of feeding programs nationwide reported that they did not have enough food to distribute to hungry people.
In New York City, food pantries and soup kitchens fed 65 percent more people this year than in 2019, a shocking statistic. A whopping 36 percent of food charities had to turn people away, reduce their portion sizes or limit their hours of operation.
While food pantries, soup kitchens and even the city’s food programs have done an admirable job feeding New Yorkers during this crisis, the demand is too overwhelming. The federal government needs to step up to ensure that cities, nonprofit organizations and other entities feeding hungry people have even more resources.
Start by expanding SNAP, the program formerly known as food stamps, which is a lifeline for so many low-income families. According to a survey by Hunger Free America, 54 percent of respondents agree that minimum SNAP benefits should increase from $16 to $30 per month.
Other recommendations like increasing the purchasing power of SNAP benefits, and eliminating the SNAP requirement that full-time college students should work 20 hours per week to get food aid, are worthy of strong consideration.
In May, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced legislation that would provide $8 billion in funding to food banks to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables directly from farmers. It’s a no-brainer that Congress should pass and the president should sign.
Washington also needs to move quickly on a stimulus package, which should include raising SNAP benefits. According to Gillibrand, the HEROES Act, passed in May, included a 15 percent increase, and this iteration of the bill should go even further.
Our leaders need to act swiftly to help the long lines of people desperately waiting to feed themselves and their families.