I’ll start with a déjà vu, thanks to Daniel Bowman Simon, who reminds me that President John F. Kennedy’s first executive orderwas to expand food distribution programs that both helped farmers and fed the poor.
President Biden is taking steps in the same direction. On January 22, the USDA announced:
- P-EBT Benefit Increase: “the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) connects low-income families with kids with food dollars equivalent to the value of the meals missed due to COVID-related school and childcare closures….USDA will increase the current daily benefit amount by approximately 15% to tackle the serious problem of child food insecurity during this school year when need is greatest.” This is great but the big problem with this program has been delays. Let’s hope those get fixed too.
- SNAP Emergency Allotments to States: USDA wants to “allow states to provide extra SNAP benefits through Emergency Allotments to the lowest-income households.” This is because the increases to SNAP authorized by Congress were set up in such a way that they did not go to the lowest-income households (37% of SNAP households) most in need.
- Revising the Thrifty Food Plan Per 2018 Farm Bill: This plan, the basis for determining SNAP benefits, is decades old, out of date, and unrealistic for SNAP households. USDA needs to revise it.
In addition, Biden is calling for More Congressional Action:
- Extend the 15% SNAP benefit increase
- Invest another $3 billion through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
- Look for creative ways to support restaurants as a critical link in the food supply chain to help feed families in need
- Provide U.S. Territories with $1 billion in additional nutrition assistance funding
OK. This does not go far enough and who knows what this Congress will do. But it’s a start, and a good one.
But that’s not all: Biden has appointed Stacy Dean as deputy undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, the piece of USDA responsible for food assistance. This puts her in charge of all this.
I consider this a superb appointment. Nobody knows more about food assistance programs. I learned this when I was editing a set of papers about SNAP for the American Journal of Public Health in 2019. She and colleagues at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities wrote the basic article for the series.
So: our job now is to loudly and strongly support everything USDA is doing to improve and expand food assistance, and to encourage the agency to take even bigger steps. Make sure Stacy gets all the support she needs to really do sometime to improve food security for the millions of American adults and children who need it badly.