Just Harvest Celebrates Long-Sought COVID Relief Bill, Additional Measures Needed

Just Harvest Celebrates Long-Sought COVID Relief Bill, Additional Measures Still Needed to Address Mounting Hunger and Poverty

Statement attributable to Ken Regal, executive director, Just Harvest

PITTSBURGH, December 22, 2020 — Just Harvest celebrates the powerful public policies in the federal COVID-19 relief package that prioritize the needs of suffering American households, particularly advocates’ national victory in winning a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits for six months (through June 30, 2021). Nearly 8 million Americans, disproportionately low-wage households and people of color, fell into poverty over the prior five months as federal and state aid dwindled. We are relieved that Congress has finally reached an agreement on this and other critical measures that will help keep food on people’s tables and a roof over their heads, days before federal unemployment benefits programs and the CDC’s eviction moratorium were due to expire.

The number of American adults reporting their households weren’t getting enough to eat went up by five million since August, two million of which were households with hungry children. Based on the dollar amount of SNAP benefits issued in November, we estimate that the relief package’s SNAP benefit increase will generate about $4.2 million per month in additional SNAP benefits in Allegheny County. This will deliver a needed economic boost; for each $1 spent in SNAP benefits during a downturn, local economies generate between $1.50 and $1.80 in activity. The federal program provides nine times the number of meals as Feeding America’s food bank network.

We applaud other key nutrition, housing, and income assistance measures in this relief package:

  • expansion of SNAP, including the exclusion of extra unemployment benefits in determining SNAP eligibility, a waiving of SNAP work requirements for college students, and SNAP administration funds for states;
  • expansion of the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) school meals benefit program for children under age six, and less red tape so that states can deliver these benefits to families after months of delay; and
  • a special “lookback” to temporarily allow lower-income individuals who lost wages due to the pandemic to receive larger Earned Income Tax Credits and Child Tax Credits in 2021 based on their 2019 earnings.

However, the following shortcomings in the package make it likely that high levels of hunger and poverty will persist in Allegheny County and beyond:

  • There are no direct fiscal relief grants to state and local governments, which risk damaging cuts to core services and worker furloughs when communities are most in need of those services and personnel.
  • These relief measures will not last for the likely duration of this pandemic and its economic impact. The eviction moratorium is only extended for one month despite the fact that one in three renters are behind on rent and there is not sufficient rental assistance in this package to help them. Unemployment benefits will only last through mid-March, and the SNAP benefits increase will expire in June despite ample evidence that they weren’t sufficient prior to this pandemic.
  • The income assistance granted is too small. There is only funds for $300/week in extra unemployment for 11 weeks. One in three households can’t cover their usual expenses in a week, yet the stimulus check is only $600, which won’t cover all the urgent expenses they now face — car payments, medical expenses, utility bills, rent, and whatever else they need to keep from falling into a deeper financial hole.
  • The agreement further endangers public health and employment by failing to extend emergency paid family and sick leave. The agreement maintains tax credits for businesses that provide paid leave but doesn’t ensure people’s right to take that leave when they get sick, have to take care of a loved one, or balance work and caregiving needs while schools are closed.
  • Undocumented immigrants, who pay hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes every year (and greatly contribute to the GDP), continue to be ineligible for most, if not all, relief measures. Undocumented immigrants who don’t have Social Security numbers remain ineligible for stimulus checks, but this agreement expands eligibility to any spouses and children who have Social Security numbers.

It is deeply frustrating that it has taken seven months following the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage of the HEROES Act for Congress to agree on a COVID relief package, particularly one that still leaves far too many Americans stranded. We are especially disappointed that Sen. Pat Toomey worked harder to benefit his prosperous Wall St. benefactors than to help struggling workers escape from poverty. We will continue to advocate for the new Congress and new Administration to act in early 2021 to provide the additional relief that will put struggling families and our economy out of harm’s way.

 

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