This editorial was published by the Seattle Times.
Lost amid the torrent of news in recent weeks, President Joe Biden announced the largest increase in food stamps in the program’s history.
This will help more than 914,000 Washington state residents who receive monthly food assistance. But the total new dollars per meal are staggeringly modest.
Under the new plan, participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will have a daily benefit of $5.25, up from about $4. That amounts to less than $2 for each meal, according to Northwest Harvest, a statewide hunger relief and food-justice agency.
“It’s welcome change. But the fact is, it really isn’t adequate to afford basic nutrition,” said Christina Wong, Northwest Harvest’s public policy and advocacy director.
People will still go hungry. Congress should keep that in mind as members now turn their attention to Biden’s proposed reworking of the nation’s social safety net.
A permanent expansion to the Child Tax Credit, part of Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion social policy plan, would cut child poverty in half, and increase food security. Wong also says additional increases to food stamps set in place as part of the pandemic response should be made permanent.
Hunger is found in every corner of the state, belying rising property values and other indicators of economic growth.
For example, in Washington’s 7th Congressional District, which stretches from Edmonds to Normandy Park and Lake Washington to Vashon Island, about 22,000 families are enrolled in SNAP, according to the Department of Agriculture. In more than 80 percent of these households, at least one person worked within the last year.
Pandemic-related job losses and layoffs caused food insecurity to spike in King County. Immediately after social-distancing strategies were put in place, the number of calls seeking food assistance increased sevenfold, according to Public Health — Seattle and King County.
Although the federal government, along with King County and Seattle, responded with food assistance and nutrition programs, food insecurity is too common and unacceptable.
Biden’s revisions, announced Aug. 16, will raise the average benefits for SNAP recipients by more than 25 percent from pre-pandemic levels. All 42 million people enrolled in SNAP will receive additional aid when the changes go into effect in October.
Under the new rules, the average monthly benefit of $121 a person before the pandemic will rise by $36.
The new plan will increase the program’s $79 billion annual cost by about $20 billion. It does not need congressional approval. Republican lawmakers Reps. James Comer of Kentucky and Don Bacon of Nebraska decried the administration’s move as “another example of its efforts to keep Americans dependent on government handouts.”
Given the numbers of working poor, the notion that people are sitting around expecting the government to feed them doesn’t ring true. The need for food assistance is unequivocal.
According to the Department of Agriculture, more than three-quarters of households use up their assistance by the middle of the month. Researchers have linked food shortages with increased hospital admissions, more school suspensions and lower SAT scores.
President Biden should be commended for increasing food stamps. Making even greater strides to ending hunger rests with congressional negotiators debating his ambitious plan to remake social policy for decades.
Whether thousands of local families have enough to eat hangs in the balance.