Families need help now more than ever in order to put food in their kids’ rumbling stomachs. The coronavirus pandemic has greatly worsened child hunger in America. Previously, 11 million children in the U.S. did not have enough food to support their proper growth and development. But due to the pandemic, the number of hungry children has risen to 17 million. That means about 1 in every 5 children in America is experiencing hunger.
To help address hunger, the United States has federal nutrition assistance programs to help American families who are unable to consistently afford food for themselves. The first program many families turn to is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as “food stamps,” which provides nourishing food via electronic benefits and nutrition education to low-income families. SNAP, as well as the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) all help provide nutritious foods to children and their families who are in need.
SNAP, WIC, the CACFP, and the SFSP make up America’s safety-net for nutrition assistance, yet this net is no longer providing sufficient food security to those they are intended to help. Lack of funding for programs, difficulty signing up for and renewing benefits, inflexible program requirements, and lack of technology are just a few reasons why America’s safety net is no longer adequate. However, some great steps have been taken to improve food security in America, such as introducing Pandemic Electronic Benefits (P-EBT) while kids have been engaged in remote learning. This program provides money for food that kids would have received if they had been at school or in child care.
Despite these programs, the new administration recognizes there are many more actions required to end hunger in America. Here’s what the administration has done so far to help end childhood hunger and what we at Save the Children Action Network (SCAN) are advocating for.
Biden’s Initial Steps to End Hunger in America
As soon as President Biden came into office he called for immediate action to address child hunger. He signed executive orders to do the following:
Update Food Plans for Today’s Nutrition Needs
- Expand food assistance to families through P-EBT
- Biden increased the P-EBT benefits by 15% and allowed children 0-6 years old to be eligible for program benefits.
- Direct the USDA to temporarily increase SNAP benefits by 15% for all SNAP participants
Call on the USDA to examine SNAP benefits further
- The value of SNAP benefits is lower than it should be. The Thrifty Food Plan, which SNAP benefits are based on, is outdated and has resulted in benefits that fall short of what a nutritious, adequate diet costs. Therefore President Biden immediately urged the USDA to review this outdated legislation.
Increase WIC Benefits
- Call for another $3 billion investment in WIC to help low-income mothers and children receive the food, education and health referrals they need.
SCAN Agenda: Invest in Child Nutrition Programs
SCAN strongly supports pandemic relief that would invest in additional funding for child nutrition programs to get us through this crisis. These programs are vital to meet children’s basic nutritional needs during the pandemic. We are urging Congress to support:
- Robust funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which supports low-income women and infants.
- A 15% increase, until the economy fully recovers, of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which helps families put food on the table.
- Expansion of the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program, and extension of the program until full economic recovery, so low income families have access to food assistance during both school closures and the summer months.
- The continuation of USDA waivers to allow program flexibilities to assure families in most need have access to nutritious foods throughout the pandemic.
We Can’t Have Temporary Solutions to End Child Hunger
But what about when the coronavirus hunger crisis is over? It cannot be said enough that child hunger solutions cannot be temporary nor only for pandemic relief; we need permanent hunger relief.
When a child is hungry, they are more at risk for sickness, hospitalizations, developing chronic diseases, brain and body growth impairments, and have lower educational and technical skills. Investing in child hunger will not only make for a healthier population, but a more competitive workforce who can contribute to society and the economy. Although the Biden administration has taken steps to help end child hunger during the pandemic, there is much more work to be done!