As a result of COVID-19, schools are closed across the country, but school nutrition professionals continue to work on the front lines to tackle food insecurity in their communities. Many school districts have maintained fixed expenses such as salaries while taking on unanticipated expenses such as hazard pay and transportation costs. Last year between the months of March and June, school nutrition programs served more than 2.5 billion meals and snacks, receiving over $5 billion in reimbursement. Today, programs are serving only a fraction of those meals, forcing programs to tap into fund balances and draw upon lines of credit to sustain their operations. Congress should provide $2.6 billion to sustain school nutrition programs during this crisis1 and reimburse schools for their temporary increase in costs due to packaging food, transporting food to sites and employee time.
The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program. Before COVID-19, it helped 40 million low-income Americans afford a nutritionally adequate diet.2 In response to the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has increased SNAP benefits to $2 billion per month across all 50 states and 3 territories.3 As millions more Americans face uncertainty because of the pandemic, the federal government should raise maximum SNAP benefits and suspend the program’s three-month time limit on benefits for jobless adults who are not raising children in their homes. The SNAP provisions enacted so far, which include a temporary suspension of the time limit, are in effect only for when the public health emergency is in effect — they very likely would end before the economy recovers — and leave out nearly 40 percent of SNAP households. SNAP benefits must be increased by 15%, eligibility must be expanded until the economy shows solid signs of recovering from the downturn, and all waivers should extend through the end of 2020. Further, the USDA must allow the use of SNAP benefits for online grocery ordering and delivery, expand and extend Pandemic EBT cards, and allow the use of SNAP at restaurants through an expanded Restaurant Meals Program.
Further, because states administer SNAP benefits, the federal government should provide additional funding to meet the rising demand for service.4 The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provided options for emergency SNAP supplements to states. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities advises that all states should take advantage of this flexibility to maintain benefits to households with children missing school meals.5 The Economic Policy Institute recommends that states can also remove barriers to receiving direct income support such as unnecessary work requirements, approve applications for SNAP and Special Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) over the phone or online rather than in person, and continue to provide food for children receiving free or reduced-price meals in schools.6