3 Reasons Why You Should Call Your Senator in July

The summer of 2020 will be one to remember. In the midst of a global pandemic, the United States is reckoning with systemic racism, rising unemployment rates due to mandatory closures, and higher rates of food insecurity. To ensure a just recovery from the events of 2020, local and federal policymakers must use the next few months to adopt new policies that help mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Here are some of the reasons why Congress must act now as well as ways you can engage to help low-income D.C. residents.

Priority 1: Passing a Senate Relief Bill that Boosts SNAP
D.C. Hunger Solutions has been advocating alongside the Food Research & Action Center and thousands of partners from around the country for a federal relief package that boosts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  

What We’re Asking:
Congress must act swiftly, as only three weeks remain before August recess. We are calling on the Senate to act in the interest of social, economic, and racial justice by enacting the following three provisions in the next relief bill:

  1. Boost SNAP maximum benefits by 15 percent;
  2. Increase minimum monthly SNAP benefit from $16 to $30; and
  3. Suspend SNAP administrative rules that terminate or weaken benefits, including Able Bodied Adult Without Dependents (ABAWD) and public charge rules.

Why It Matters:
The COVID-19 crisis continues to create deep need among Americans. Food insecurity doubled in the first month of the pandemic. Feeding America estimates that about 40 percent of people visiting food banks are first-time visitors. In D.C. alone, 14,000 people would lose benefits under the ABAWD rule. In short, more Americans need food assistance, and those using SNAP need stronger benefits. Boosting maximum benefits, increasing the minimum monthly benefit, and suspending unjust and burdensome rules are critical if America wishes to support its citizens – and its economy – in this time of need. 

Studies estimate that each dollar in SNAP benefits generates between $1.50 and $1.80 in economic activity during a recession. Increasing SNAP benefits will boost spending and help drive the hard-pressed economy. SNAP also plays a strong role in helping raise traditionally marginalized groups out of poverty. In 2016, SNAP helped put food on the table for 13 million Black households and raised 2.1 million Black Americans out of poverty. For Latinx people, SNAP helped lift 2.5 million out of poverty and put food on the table for 13 million households each month. With racial and ethnic minority groups already disproportionately affected by COVID-19, boosting SNAP has the potential to save countless families facing dire situations. As Americans face increased unemployment, food insecurity, and healthcare concerns amid a global pandemic, the Senate must pass a bill that strengthens SNAP.

What You Can Do:
Build the momentum from the Rolling Rally event! Call your Senator and ask them to boost SNAP, using our three policy asks and the statistics above as a guide. Calling your Senator is a simple and meaningful way to get involved in the political process and advocate for people who need to get food on the table. Find your Senator’s phone number here and check out FRAC’s COVID-19 Actions webpage for updated details about messaging and actions you can take. Use the hashtag #BoostSNAPNow when posting on social media.

Priority 2: Strengthening School Meals
The pandemic has heightened food insecurity for millions of children across America. 1 in 6 households with children report that their kids are sometimes or often not eating enough food during the pandemic. Many of these kids are likely among the 22 million children who eat free or reduced price lunch at school every day, relying on school meals as their primary source of nutrition. In D.C. alone, 30,000 low-income children eat school breakfast each day. Much still remains uncertain going into the 2020-2021 school year, but schools must have the ability to make one thing certain: that all children will have reliable access to nutritious food.     

What We’re Asking: 
1. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) should waive activity requirements for programs that provide after-school meals and snacks. Normally, programs run through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) are required to have an enrichment activity in order to serve food. Right now, this is unrealistic because many schools and providers will be closed or limited, unable to hold activities. 

2. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) should be made a year-round option, as the USDA allowed during the pandemic, and allow non-congregate feeding, which enables grab-and-go style meals for optimal social distancing.

Why it Matters: 
1. Many providers won’t be able to have an enrichment activity due to closures or other COVID-19 related restrictions. To make sure that students can still receive meals and snacks, it is crucial that the activity requirement be waived. D.C. led the nation in after-school supper participation in 2017 and normally serves afterschool snacks and suppers to thousands of children every day. By waiving the activity requirement, D.C. providers can continue to safely and effectively feed children.

2. The SFSP is an ideal model for providing school meals as students spend all or most of their days learning remotely, as it normally operates when school is not in session. In this unprecedented time, schools, community providers, and nonprofit organizations should be able to provide food for children in whatever way makes the most sense, including the SFSP.

What You Can Do:
Call your Senator and let them know that providers need flexibility in serving meals during this time, and America’s children depend on it. Strengthen your argument with statistics about pandemic food insecurity among children. Your Congress members can put pressure on the USDA to strengthen school programs. 

Priority 3: Extending P-EBT 
A key part of the federal coronavirus response is P-EBT (Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer), a program that provides benefits on EBT cards to families with children who would normally receive free or reduced price school meals. 

What We’re Asking:
P-EBT should be extended through the school year and for younger children on WIC or in SNAP/TANF households. 

Why It Matters:
More than 68,000 students benefit from P-EBT in D.C. However, thousands of young children are excluded from the program and benefits are only provided for the months of March through June 2020. School districts across the country have decided that they will pursue fully remote instruction this fall, and D.C.’s plans remain uncertain. These decisions underscore the need for P-EBT to continue as millions of students will potentially miss out on school meals – their primary nutrition source. Furthermore, P-EBT is open to people of any immigration status, offering a lifeline to some of the most vulnerable families living in the U.S. 

Extending P-EBT will help all families, but it is particularly important for groups that have been hit hardest by COVID-19. According to researchers from Northwestern University, almost a quarter (23.2%) of White households with children are experiencing food insecurity right now, but 36.9% of Latinx households and 41.1% of Black households with children are in the same position. While estimates of food insecurity doubled for White and Latinx households with children, they increased by 60% for Black households. Refusing to extend P-EBT would exacerbate these harsh inequalities.  

What You Can Do:
As always, you can call your Senator! Let them know that extending P-EBT will keep millions of people afloat, especially families with children, families of color, and families with uncertain immigration status. You can also shout out your Congress members on social media. Find your Senator’s Twitter handle here, and make some noise online.  

Underlying all of these policies is the fact that the pandemic has completely transformed the status quo. The moment of crisis and change that we find ourselves in calls for innovative solutions that will have to be different from what has worked in the past. The Senate, D.C. government, and the USDA should not be afraid to change the status quo to ensure that all people have their basic needs met. To help combat hunger and food insecurity, call your Senator and ask them to boost SNAP and extend P-EBT in the next COVID-19 response bill, and to ask the USDA to strengthen school meals.