Senators push to strengthen food assistance amid coronavirus crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley last week led a group of 22 lawmakers — including Senator Ron Wyden — in urging Senate leadership to support and strengthen SNAP, or food stamps, to help ensure that families across America can keep food on their tables despite the mounting economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

“SNAP is the nation’s first line of defense against hunger and is proven to help lifts millions of American families and children out of poverty,” the senators wrote. “The latest estimate by the Census Bureau found that SNAP lifted 3.4 million people out of poverty in 2018 including 1.5 million children. Given the unprecedented disruption to the economy, income and employment with more than 17 million Americans filing unemployment benefit claims, an expanded and strengthened SNAP can serve as a buffer for families who are now at risk of food insecurity and are struggling to make ends meet during this national health crisis.”

“We can avert the risk of poverty and food insecurity among American families and children while improving our chances for an economic rebound by investing in SNAP,” the senators continued.

Specifically, the senators requested the following provisions be included in upcoming coronavirus relief legislation:

• Increase the maximum SNAP benefit for all recipients by increasing the thrifty food plan by at least 15 percent to all households, which is equivalent to another $25 per person per month, or a little under $100 per month in food assistance for a family of four.

• Increase the monthly minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30 to all households. This will go a long way in helping older Americans, single persons, and family households keep food on the table.

• Suspend the harmful rules proposed by USDA that would weaken SNAP eligibility and benefits at time when Americans need SNAP assistance.

• Provide additional options and investments to support delivery for SNAP participants.

As the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the SNAP program, Senator Merkley has been a consistent advocate for funding the program that supports many of America’s families. Earlier this month, Senators Merkley and Wyden teamed up to urge Amazon and Walmart to waive delivery fees and minimum order requirements for SNAP recipients, in an effort to help vulnerable families afford grocery delivery services — which can help limit virus exposure.

Oregon’s U.S. Senators were joined in sending the letter by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jack Reed (D-RI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Robert Casey (D-PA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).