The $900 billion economic relief package that passed Monday evening includes $26 billion for nutrition assistance and agriculture and rural programs. (President Trump on Tuesday night signaled he might not sign the bill after requesting more money for stimulus checks.) Half of that, $13 billion, is to provide nutrition assistance for food-insecure Americans. The other $13 billion goes to agricultural assistance and programs, with a small amount, $300 million, to assist the fishing industry.
This is how the second-biggest stimulus package in U.S. history will administer emergency aid to low-income and hungry Americans.
What’s the biggest change and when will people see relief?
The most important component, according to many anti-hunger advocates, is an across-the-board 15 percent increase in monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for the next six months, starting Jan. 1, for the roughly 43 million Americans receiving food stamps. The package also expands eligibility for needy college students. Older adults will also see a boost in funding for the Older Americans Act nutrition programs ($175 million), including support for tribal nutrition programs ($7 million).
Previous coronavirus relief bills did not expand benefits for the 40 percent who were already at the maximum benefit, often the poorest Americans. The increase adds a little less than $1 per person, per day, so an approximate $25 addition per person each month, says Lisa Davis, senior vice president of Share Our Strength, a nonprofit organization working to end childhood hunger.
How much will that $25 buy? Share Our Strength breaks it down: That’s a dozen eggs, a gallon of milk, an 8-pack of yogurts, a package of sliced cheese, a bag of baby carrots, a pint of blueberries, a jar of tomato sauce, a jar of peanut butter and a pound of dried spaghetti.
Can you still get additional SNAP aid if you are getting other enhanced benefits?
The package excludes unemployment compensation from being counted as income for the purposes of calculating SNAP benefits and eligibility. The Cares Act, the $2.2 trillion federal coronavirus relief law enacted in March, expanded unemployment benefits by $600 per week through July 31, but that increased income knocked many families who had lost jobs off programs such as SNAP.
Will it change how food assistance recipients receive their benefits?
The relief package makes it easier to use benefits, allocating $5 million for technical support to the Agriculture Department (USDA) in expanding online purchasing programs for farmers markets and direct-marketing farmers and supporting mobile payment technologies and the electronic benefit transfer (EBT) system. It is seen as a win for small farmers and farmers markets, and for giving consumers expanded choices.
“This option provides more dignity and normalization of the food-purchasing process,” Davis says. Walmart and Amazon were the first vendors approved for online SNAP purchases, and last week Instacart and Aldi were added as SNAP partners in 23 states and D.C. after a brief pilot program. The relief package also establishes a task force to support online delivery systems for the nutrition program for women, infants and young children known as WIC, with a pilot program in Omaha.
Are there any new provisions specifically for low-income kids?
Starting in the spring, school kids who were eligible for free and reduced-price school meals but whose schools moved to remote learning qualified for Pandemic EBT, a debit card program. According to Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center, an anti-hunger nonprofit organization, the bill gives states some additional flexibilities to support the distribution of P-EBT benefits to school-age children and expands the program for children younger than 6 years old, a lifeline for young children when child care is closed.
The measure is not entirely a win for young children, according to Brian Dittmeier, senior public policy counsel at the National WIC Association. A proposal to increase WIC’s fruit and vegetable benefit was left out of the final bill.
“Right now the WIC benefit is only $2.25 per week, per person for fruits and vegetables, which is wholly inadequate,” Dittmeier says. “It would have been a complementary provision that also would have benefited the growers of fruits and vegetables who are struggling right now.”
Does the stimulus package include relief for the country’s food banks?
The bill includes $400 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) — one of the largest suppliers for food banks. This funding is necessary as food banks prepare for a scheduled 50 percent reduction in food received from the government and at the same time face a 60 percent increase in demand, says Kate Leone, chief government relations officer at Feeding America, a national network of 200 food banks. The $4.5 billion Farmers to Families Food Box program ends next week. So does the $7.1 billion for direct food purchases for food assistance in the Food Purchase and Distribution Program, a component of the Trump administration’s aid to farmers who were suffering from the trade war with China.
“The food purchase program in the legislation will help, but as we anticipate a gap of 8 billion meals between food bank supply and demand, we are eager to continue working with Congress and USDA on implementation of the funding provided to support producers impacted by covid-19 and other measures to ensure that there is enough food on hand to help people in need,” she says.