The Journal Gazette
Thursday, July 30, 2020 1:00 am

A SNAP decision

Expanded food benefits easy call amid crisis

Emily Weikert Bryant

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, our Hoosier neighbors are struggling against unprecedented hardships, including hunger.

Food insecurity is estimated to rise 40% in Indiana this year as families must work harder to make ends meet. Right now, 17% of Indiana adults who live with children report that their children don't have enough to eat because they can't afford it.

The member food banks of Feeding Indiana's Hungry, as well as the more than 1,700 partner pantries and meal sites around Indiana, are working around the clock to help families in need keep food on the table. But food banks cannot do this work alone.

The only way to ensure no one goes hungry during, and after, the coronavirus crisis is through both a strong charitable sector and deep government investment in our federal nutrition programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Every one of our 11 member food banks reported a significant increase in need for food assistance in their communities, with an average 60% increase in demand. And while these food banks have revised distribution, food sourcing and logistics practices in response to COVID-19 to do what they do best – feeding people millions of pounds of food – they are struggling to help the hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers seeking food assistance right now, including many families seeking help for the first time.

We cannot expect food banks to completely shoulder the task of feeding our nation during one of its greatest times of need. Strengthening our federal nutrition programs, particularly by expanding SNAP benefits, is a crucial step toward stemming the tide of increased demand for food assistance.

Congress must increase SNAP benefits by 15% – similar to what was done following the Great Recession – to help feed families who are already or newly struggling against hunger. SNAP is proven to help safeguard the food security of people in times of need, and its strength is unparalleled. In fact, for every meal the Feeding America network of 200 food banks provides, SNAP provides nine.

SNAP is not only an anti-hunger powerhouse: It is also a critical economic multiplier. When low-income families receive SNAP benefits to purchase groceries, those dollars are circulated within and stimulate local economies.

As unemployment claims across the country remain high, it is likely that an economic downturn will follow the end of our present public health emergency. Increasing SNAP benefits will help make the program even more responsive to any economic downswing that is sure to come.

To that point, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office rated an increase in SNAP benefits as one of the most cost-effective ways to boost economic growth and create jobs in a weak economy.

In the midst of heightened hunger and impending economic distress, the Senate majority proposal introduced this week is an unconscionable failure in the federal response to the COVID-19 hunger crisis we are facing.

As Indiana food banks continue to struggle to meet the huge breadth of need for emergency food assistance, we call on Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun to support an increase in SNAP benefits by 15% in the upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation, and to keep that increase in place for the duration of the economic downturn. 

As our Hoosier communities continue to weather extraordinary circumstances, we need extraordinary help.

More than ever, this means increasing SNAP benefits for people facing hunger.

Emily Weikert Bryant is executive director of Feeding Indiana's Hungry.

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