Last week, President Biden signed an executive order to address our nation’s longstanding and growing hunger crisis. Even before the pandemic, more than 1 in 7 children–10.5 million–went to bed hungry in America and Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous children suffered at disproportionate rates. In 2019, nearly 1 in 4 Black children and 1 in 5 Hispanic children lived in households that didn’t get enough food to eat. Now, as many as 1 in 4 children could face hunger as we enter a new year and new administration amidst the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Recognizing that hunger is a moral and political failure with devastating consequences for our children and nation, President Biden exercised his authority last Thursday to issue an executive order to strengthen federal nutrition assistance. This executive order includes a number of provisions to address shortcomings in existing COVID relief efforts and provide immediate relief for millions of families struggling to put food on the table. Among many other positive steps, President Biden’s executive order:
- Boosts Nutrition Assistance for Low-Income Children Missing School Meals: With many schools and child care centers closed across the country, millions of children cannot access the free-or reduced-price meals they need to learn and thrive. Last March, Congress created a new Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program to provide emergency food assistance to children missing school meals. To date, however, P-EBT benefits have been capped at $5.86 a child per school day–not nearly enough to cover the cost of a balanced breakfast and lunch. To provide families with low incomes more money to replace missed school meals and keep their children fed at home, President Biden authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to immediately increase P-EBT benefits by 15 percent. On average, a family with three children out of school will receive an additional $100 over two months.
- Pushes to Extend Emergency SNAP Benefits to Families and Children in Greatest Need: President Biden also directed the USDA and DOJ to reverse a Trump administration policy preventing the lowest income families from receiving extra emergency food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Last March, Congress authorized states to provide extra emergency SNAP benefits to hungry families. Under current law, however, states are not allowed to provide these emergency allotments (EAs) to families already receiving maximum SNAP benefits. As a result, 37 percent of the lowest income SNAP households–including more than 5 million children— are being denied this additional, much-needed relief. This executive order seeks to rectify this injustice and ensure emergency food assistance is targeted to reach families in greatest need.
- Directs USDA to Begin Revising and Raising SNAP Benefit Levels: Lastly, President Biden directed the USDA to begin revising the Thrifty Food Plan used to calculate SNAP benefits, which is woefully inadequate and outdated. Under the existing Thrifty Food Plan, SNAP benefits average just $1.40 a meal per person–far below what families need to keep food on the table and feed their growing children. In fact, half of all families receiving SNAP in 2019 were still unable to get enough nutritious food because benefits were too low. This executive order will initiate a long overdue process to update and modernize how SNAP benefits are calculated and ensure nutrition assistance reflects the true cost of a nutritious diet in the 21st century.
Together, these actions will help millions of children and families avoid hunger in the days and months ahead–but additional Congressional action is still desperately needed. Congress must also include a longer extension of the SNAP 15 percent boost past September 2021 to ensure children and families have consistent and robust access to nutrition support.