How to Solve Child and Student Hunger in America? Do What Works — And Don’t Stop
During COVID-19, rates of hunger and food insecurity soared to heights not seen since The Great Depression as families found themselves without jobs to pay the bills, children without school buildings to provide them with in-person learning and consistent meals during the day, and community resources buckling due to increased demand.
Recently, Ed Trust hosted a Twitter chat to discuss student food and housing insecurity in the wake of COVID-19. Our co-hosts, Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry and the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), joined us for an important conversation about how to continue this kind of support for hungry children, students, and their families. Our partners had a lot of important things to say — and we couldn’t agree more:
Fortunately, Congress has acted to meet the needs of children, students, and their families during COVID-19. Lawmakers quickly created the vital Pandemic EBT program and eventually extended the program to cover children under five years old. Monthly benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were temporarily increased by 15% and made available to eligible college students. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Trump and Biden administrations extended child nutrition program waivers that allow for greater flexibility to ensure every student gets the meals they need each day.
Lawmakers approved multiple rounds of direct stimulus checks, established a fully refundable Child Tax Credit, and increased funding for and access to benefits under the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. In January, the Biden administration announced it would increase the amount of Pandemic EBT benefits that families would receive. The American Rescue Plan took reforms further by extending the program through the summer months and permanently authorizing the program to exist during any future national emergency.
The good news is this level of support at the federal level is working. Rates of hunger are on the decline, along with unemployment claims as vaccinations become widely available. However, it shouldn’t take a global pandemic for Congress to be serious about ending child and student hunger in our country. Simply put: this level of investment and support to eradicate hunger cannot, and should not, stop.
In addition to the American Rescue Plan being implemented, President Biden has introduced the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, as well as put forth the first budget proposal of his administration. Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) is also long overdue for Congressional action.
Lawmakers are talking infrastructure packages, reconciliation, and end of year stop-gap spending bills. Continued help for children, students, and families who are hungry must be part of any legislative effort that Congress undertakes. Here are five things that Congress should do to ensure no child or student in our nation goes hungry even after a global pandemic:
- Fully authorize and fund a nationwide Summer EBT program – as proposed in the American Families Plan — to provide benefits to all children (including children 0-5) who are eligible for free and reduced priced meals over the summer months, school holidays, weekends, and school closures to fill service gaps in existing summer nutrition programs
- Strengthen SNAP benefits permanently by basing monthly allotments on the Low-Cost Food Plan (rather than the Thrifty Food Plan currently used) and increase the minimum benefit level
- Eliminate SNAP time limits and improve SNAP access for college students, immigrants, people impacted by the justice system, and families trying to improve their economic circumstances
- Expand direct certification opportunities and simplify school meal enrollment processes for students and their families (e.g., automatically qualify students experiencing homelessness, migrant students, or students living in households participating in TANF or Medicaid)
- Increase access to and funding for out-of-school meal programs, including during after-school activities, extracurricular activities, and childcare settings
These reforms, which build on action already taken by lawmakers, would go far to support those hit hardest by COVID-19 and would continue to lift families out of poverty. We’ve seen great success in curbing hunger over the past year by investing in the programs and supports that clearly work for children, students, and families. There is absolutely no reason to stop now.