WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers want to prioritize food insecurity in the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation.
More than 100 lawmakers sent a letter Tuesday, including five Virginia representatives, asking Democratic and Republican leaders of the U.S. House and Senate to boost the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit by 15 percent — a request Republicans rejected in the $2 trillion coronavirus response packaged signed into law last month.
“SNAP is one of our country’s most vital social safety nets, and it will continue to play a critical role in reducing hunger, malnutrition and poverty throughout the COVID-19 health crisis,” the House lawmakers wrote. Democrats were joined on the letter by one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.
During the 2009 recession, Congress boosted the maximum benefit to $1.74 per person per meal, and Congress “must make a similar investment” now, they wrote.
More than 863,000 Virginians, (about one in 10 residents) struggle with hunger, according to Feeding America, a national hunger-relief organization.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has voiced support for the effort, telling reporters last week that Democrats “did not get all that we wanted” for food and nutrition programs. “We have more needs, so we need more resources to feed the hungry.”
She called the absence of increased SNAP benefits in the last coronavirus package a “disappointment” at a news conference last month. “We were asking for a 15 percent increase in food stamps at this very fragile time for many families, [but] they wouldn’t do that in this bill.”
On Wednesday, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a joint statement laying out their priorities for an “interim emergency coronavirus relief” package. They called for “strong additional support for families with a 15 percent increase to the maximum SNAP benefit to help put food on the table.”
A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not respond to requests for comment.
The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.