Millions of Children Go Hungry as Mitch McConnell Blocks Stimulus Bill

Originally published on Truthout.

Advocates on the front lines say they are seeing an alarming increase in the number of families going hungry in communities across the country. Megan Sandel, a physician at the Grow Clinic for Children at Boston Medical Center and investigator for Children’s HealthWatch, said the number of families showing up at the medical center has increased by 40 percent during the pandemic, and two-thirds report food insecurity. Parents who typically stretched their budget for food at the end of the month before the pandemic are now running out of money much earlier. A food pantry at the clinic is now open around the clock. Some parents have told Sandel that they sometimes only have enough food for their children, but not themselves, so they leave the room during mealtime so their kids don’t see that they are not eating.

“Parents will not actually eat in order to feed their children,” Sandel told reporters on Thursday, adding that food insecurity can harm a child’s ability to learn in school.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed in March by bolstering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which is commonly called food stamps. States were temporarily allowed to provide families emergency allotments to buy food up to the maximum allowed under SNAP. The law also established the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program, or pandemic EBT, which provides money for food meant to replace free meals that lower-income children received in schools before they shut down or went virtual due to COVID-19.

Unless Congress acts, both of these temporary SNAP provisions will expire at the end of the month, leaving millions of unemployed workers, people with disabilities, elderly people and low-income parents with less money to buy food. The Trump administration has repeatedly attempted to slash funding for SNAP and push people out of the program with new rules for eligibility.

“The pandemic EBT is the most efficient way to get food into people’s hands,” Sandel said.

Sandel said Congress should renew the temporary SNAP provisions for the remainder of the pandemic and make some tweaks. Currently, the poorest households — which include about 5 million children – that already receive the maximum SNAP benefit did not receive additional nutrition assistance under the original stimulus legislation. Some schools are reopening with a mix of in-person and virtual instruction, and advocates say policymakers must ensure that pandemic EBT covers children who miss school meals because they are attending class virtually from home for a portion of the school week.