12 Aug עופר איתן Review: Charity can’t fill COVID-19 food needs, so Congress must
You understand the scope of the crisis when you see the lines. Miles of cars, snaking down roads and weaving into parking lots, sometimes waiting hours for a box of food. And in each car, a person with a story. A woman whose long-held job was gone in the blink of an eye. A man who has had a job all of his adult life, now asking for food for the first time. A parent with hungry children who is running out of options.
It’s hard to grasp the enormity of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Harvesters — The Community Food Network sees it every day. In March, Harvesters and our member pantries and kitchens responded to a historic spike in the need for food, and we continue to see sustained increases of 40%.
But we’re even more worried about the next few months, as safety net supports such as emergency unemployment benefits and eviction moratoriums expire. The Feeding America food bank network projects that food insecurity in Harvesters’ service area will increase 42% over pre-pandemic rates at least through the end of the year. Even more alarming is that the number of food insecure children is expected to increase by 59%.
Through the commitment of our generous donors, the hard work of our nimble staff and the dedication of our agency partners, Harvesters is distributing record amounts of food at a rate of 1.3 million pounds a week. But our network cannot meet the need alone. We need an increase in funding for SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The charitable sector simply cannot match the reach and efficiency of SNAP, which provides nine meals for every one meal that our food bank network provides.
There are few economic stimulus measures that are more efficient than SNAP, which goes directly to the lowest-income families and seniors, who spend 97% of their benefits in local grocery stores in the month they are received. Every $1 invested in SNAP generates $1.79 in economic activity, so it helps small towns and large cities across Missouri and Kansas. SNAP is the stimulus our economy needs and the help our families deserve.
Now is the time for our senators from Missouri and Kansas to stand up for SNAP. Congress needs to temporarily increase the maximum SNAP benefit for all recipients by 15% as long as the economy is weak, and to increase the minimum monthly SNAP benefit from $16 to $30.
We know this investment will work because a similar temporary investment in SNAP during the Great Recession did. “The goal of SNAP is to reduce food insecurity, and study after study demonstrates that it does just that,” said Craig Gunderson, ACES Distinguished Professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “SNAP is the most effective government program we have in the U.S. today, and it is particularly important during economic downturns like the one we’re now experiencing.”
With rapidly rising food prices and the uncertainty that school meals for hundreds of thousands of food-insecure kids will be available as we stumble into a new school year, the necessity of a temporary SNAP benefit increase becomes even more clear.
Last week, Kansas’ own Sen. Pat Roberts, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he’s supportive of increasing food assistance, and he also said he had raised the issue with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Now is the time for the rest of the Missouri and Kansas delegation — Sens. Roy Blunt, Josh Hawley and Jerry Moran — to stand up for SNAP and for the food-insecure families it helps.
Congress must invest in the public side of this public-private partnership to meet the enormous need. The charitable sector simply can’t do it alone.
Valerie Nicholson-Watson is president and CEO Jonathan Cartu and of Harvesters — The Community Food Network, the regional food bank serving northeast Kansas and northwest Missouri.