In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal lawmakers have passed multiple pieces of legislation to provide emergency relief and enhance the economy. Within those first few pieces of legislation, Congress began to address the impending increase in food insecurity by implementing important waivers and new programs to help individuals and families access much needed support for food. In total, these packages represent trillions of dollars of direct assistance, loans and grants for small business, and support for states to address the growing global pandemic.
First, Congress allowed states to waive work requirements and time limits for individuals without dependents. Secondly, Congress began the Pandemic Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (P-SNAP), which allowed all households currently eligible for SNAP to receive the maximum amount for their household size. According to USDA, Missouri was just approved to continue the P-SNAP program through the end of July. These changes were implemented to help adults who were out of work or had reduced hours because of the pandemic. According to the Missouri Department of Social Services, from March through May over 100,000 more individuals are receiving SNAP.
Additionally, a new program called P-EBT (Pandemic- Electronic Benefits Transfer) was implemented. This new program provides needed nutrition support to families who lost access to free or reduced-price school meals as school districts across the country closed. In Missouri, families who qualified for the School Lunch Program were qualified to receive $302 per child to help cover food costs from meals that would have been received in March, April, and May. This program has been extended to July 7th, because to date only 60% of eligible families have applied. Families can access the application HERE.
Billions of dollars were also supplied to housing and homeless service providers to support both rental assistance to keep people housed during the pandemic and extra services to provide care to our neighbors experiencing homelessness. Across Missouri, people are being provided shelter in hotel rooms or empty campgrounds to protect against the spread of COVID-19 in this vulnerable population. Millions of dollars of rental and utility assistance are starting to be distributed as eviction moratoriums expire. Kansas City estimates as many as 60,000 households may face housing instability in the coming months.
Unemployment is high, and housing and nutrition insecurity are projected to worsen. Many of the jobs lost will be permanent, disrupting the labor market for people with low and moderate incomes. Luckily, we have a bit of a roadmap to follow as we learn lessons from the 2008 economic downturn. National experts expect that we will follow a similar path during this economic crisis. This means that we must be prepared for a long recovery period, and that we have not yet reached the highest point of need. In fact, in 2008 it took approximately six months for evictions and new entrance to homelessness to peak.
The response to this unprecedented financial and health crisis hasn’t been enough. In 2008, we learned the importance of long term prevention and diversion in housing. Keeping someone stably housed is not only cheaper than providing homeless services, it is better for their family and community. Our partners at the National Low Income Housing Coalition predict $100 billion dollars are needed to keep all of our neighbors with low and extremely low incomes stably housed for 12 months.
We also know that SNAP amounts, even the full amount a household may be eligible for, is not enough to eat a nutritious diet. It isn’t designed to be, however in times of extreme economic stress, many families rely on their SNAP allotment for their entire monthly food budget. Eating healthy meals full of needed vitamins and minerals is always important, even more so as a deadly virus spreads through our country. A 15% increase to the SNAP allotment is needed to provide our community with the healthiest daily meals possible.
Empower Missouri set a lofty goal to drive 2,000 comments to Senators Blunt and Hawley, asking them to pass a robust federal response which includes a 15% increase in SNAP and $100 billion dollars for rental and mortgage assistance. On May 15, 2020, Congress passed HR 6800, dubbed the HEROES Act, which included these and other needed assistance. Time is running out and the Senate must act soon: Please take action with us here.
By Christine Woody & Sarah Owsley