Support the HEROES Act, Support our Children
May 20, 2020
By Katherine Ungar, JD, Policy Associate
More families and children across the country, and right here in Ohio, are experiencing hunger. We must do everything we can to ensure our children do not go hungry and receive the nutrition support they need during the immediate public health emergency and beyond. The recently House-passed HEROES Act, the House’s version of a fourth COVID-19 response package, includes provisions that will have an immediate and significant impact on food access and security. These measures are especially important as we enter the summer months, the time when, even prior to the Pandemic, households with children experience higher rates of food insecurity due to lack of resources and school lunches.
The bill provides $10 billion in additional funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
The Act critically provides for a 15% increase in the SNAP maximum benefit through September 30, 2021 and increases the minimum monthly allotment from $16.00 to $30.00. The bill also increases food access by allowing SNAP recipients to use their benefits to purchase hot foods or hot food products ready for immediate consumption until the end of the COVID-19 emergency.
Not only does the SNAP increase support children and families, but also stimulates our economy. Not surprisingly, SNAP applications in Ohio have surged as over 1 million people in just the past eight weeks have lost jobs and filed for unemployment. Prior to the pandemic, more than 1.3 million Ohioans received SNAP benefits. SNAP can help families’ stability during economic crisis, especially when there are children in the house.
Children’s Defense Fund published a fact sheet highlighting the importance of the SNAP program, featuring a Columbus, Ohio resident’s experience:
“Jami Clinkscale of Columbus, OH relies on a $580 per month disability check to make ends meet. After COVID-19 hit, she went from feeding two people to six after taking in her grandchildren when their mother got evicted. Jami is feeding her family on $170 a month in SNAP benefits, supplementing with food pantries, and ultimately skips meals so there is enough for her grandchildren. ‘I’ve eaten a lot less just to make sure they get what they need.’”
Standard SNAP benefits are too low to adequately feed many families and almost half of families use their monthly allotments within the first few weeks of the month. With the current rise of unemployment and other additional hardships, families’ food budgets are being stretched. An increase in SNAP benefits will not only provide relief for Ohioans like Jami, but will also result in an economic stimulus as these dollars are spent at Ohio retailers and grocery stores.
The bill allocates $3 billion in additional funding for child and school nutrition programs through September 30, 2021.
The Act provides much needed emergency funding to school meal programs to cover operational costs and to Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) sponsors.
Importantly, the bill would extend the Pandemic-EBT program through 2021 and allow children to receive benefits through the summer until schools reopen. Further, the bill would allow children to receive additional P-EBT benefits if schools close due to another outbreak in the next school year. The Act also allows states to include children who would have otherwise received meals through child care programs, including those that receive meals through the CACFP program.
On May 12, 2020, Ohio was approved to implement a Pandemic-EBT program. The program will provide around $300.00 in nutrition benefits to 850,000 children, a total of $250 million directly to Ohioans that will also stimulate their local economies. Hunger does not disappear when school is not in session, and with the closure of some of the existing school meal programs, extending the P-EBT program to cover the summer months and future school closures will provide nutrition for Ohio children.
The bill provides an additional $1.1 billion in funding to meet increased demand for The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), to remain in effect through September 30, 2022.
The bill allows the United States Department of Agriculture to increase the value of the WIC Cash Value Voucher from $9.00 for children and $11.00 for women per month to $35.00 per month for women and children through the end of fiscal year 2020.
The WIC program is integral to maternal and child health in our state. As of February, 2020, 184,435 women, infants, and children participated in WIC, and average monthly participation between October 2019 and February 2020 was 188,402. The need for programs like WIC has only increased due to the public health emergency. Moreover, the WIC program is effective and has a significant impact on maternal and child health, including that WIC participation improves the length or pregnancy and birth weight, reduces late fetal deaths, and improves the diets of women and children. We are pleased to see the federal government acknowledge the importance of the WIC program through the provision of an additional $1.1 billion for the program.
The Heroes Act vitally makes preventing childhood hunger a priority. Through increased funding, program flexibilities, and extensions, more children will be able to access nutritious foods during the remainder of the pandemic and beyond. In the wealthiest country on earth, no child should go hungry. The Senate’s support of these nutrition programs in the HEROES ACT will feed our most vulnerable children.