As the year ended here at Project Bread, we were answering calls from families and individuals struggling financially in the wake of the coronavirus. Calls were coming from parents like the couple in Waltham with three children. Both spouses had lost their jobs, and the unemployment just wasn’t enough for them to keep up with rent and utilities, let alone other expenses. Sadly, both parents were eating less so their kids could have enough food, and as the year dragged on, things were getting worse and worse. Fortunately, we were able to help sign this family up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and provide them with some local emergency food resources.
It’s the hundreds of thousands of kids and families just like this one that will also feel the positive impact of the long awaited COVID-19 relief package Congress recently passed.
While we know there is much more to be done, the final bill did include many of the anti-hunger provisions Project Bread has been seeking since the start of the pandemic.
Given that we hear from those directly experiencing food insecurity – from calls to our FoodSource Hotline from those looking for food resources, to those who are referred to us by a doctor who recognized the symptoms of hunger, to those who bring their kids to meal sites we help run - we know that these anti-hunger provisions are more than just policy and numbers. Instead, they’re lifesaving measures that make a real difference in the lives of real people who need food, everyday.
Here’s the run-down of what made it into the final bill signed on December 27, 2020. Just imagine how significant these measures will be for families like the one from Waltham above:
15% boost to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit amounts – The Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed in March allowed states to issue emergency payments so that all households receiving SNAP receive the maximum benefit amount for their household size despite income. The December bill added an additional 15% boost to benefits. This will equal about $27 per person per month or for a family of 3, the monthly SNAP benefit will be $615—up from $535. This increase will be in place through June 2021.
An extra $300 per week boost in unemployment that will not be counted for SNAP- At the end of March the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included an additional $600 per week for individuals receiving unemployment. While this assistance was critical, it was counted as income for SNAP eligibility which caused some households to lose their SNAP benefits. Last month’s legislation brought back a reduced unemployment boost at $300 per week, but this boost will not be counted for SNAP eligibility. Households can receive their full unemployment benefits without jeopardizing their SNAP benefits.
Changes to college student eligibility rules- Before the pandemic, most college students were subjected to the SNAP work reporting requirements. The relief package expanded SNAP eligibility for low-income college students who receive work study (even if no work study job is available) or those whose expected family contribution under the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is $0.
Getting P-EBT out to certain kids ages 0-5 - In October, Congress extended Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) and expanded it to children under 6 who lose access to childcare days due to the pandemic. While Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to extend P-EBT benefits to school aged children, the state is still awaiting further guidance from USDA for issuing benefits to younger children. While this COVID relief bill makes it easier for states like Massachusetts to get P-EBT out to kids ages 0-5 who are on SNAP, we still await further guidance from USDA.
Emergency funds to schools and community organizations providing meals -The pandemic has taken a serious financial toll on meal sponsors like school districts and community organizations. While flexibilities allow for any child to receive meals, participation is still lower than during a normal school year. At the same time, meal sponsors have had increased cost related to safety. The December relief bill authorized funding for up to 55 percent of total reimbursements lost for the last half of March 2020 for programs through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and Child Care Food Program (CACFP).
Exploring online delivery system for WIC — WIC is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. Before the pandemic, USDA had begun a pilot for online purchasing using SNAP. With social distancing, USDA accelerated this process and allowed several more states to be included under this pilot, including Massachusetts. Unfortunately, there are no online ordering and delivery options for WIC. This bill creates a task force to explore how to support WIC households in being able to shop online.
Other anti-hunger programs
More money for emergency food - funds for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and Meals on Wheels.
Other provisions of interest
Stimulus checks - A one-time $600 payment for each individual in most households including dependent children.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) extended until April 5th - The CARES act created PUA to provide independent contractors, freelancers, self-employed individuals and others typically left out of traditional unemployment.
Eviction moratorium and rental assistance - The moratorium on eviction has been extended through the end of January and an additional $25 billion is made available in emergency rental assistance to aid both renters and landlords.
The entire Massachusetts delegation, led by the unwavering advocacy of Representative Jim McGovern, fought for these important anti-hunger provisions. We thank them for their support and for their votes in favor of supporting Massachusetts residents who are living with food insecurity as they navigate this crisis.
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