House coronavirus bill boosts SNAP, other public nutrition programs

The $3 trillion coronavirus bill backed by House Democrats would increase SNAP benefits by 15 percent and put $4 billion into other public nutrition programs, according to summaries released by the House Appropriations Committee. Democratic leaders announced the bill on Tuesday and said the House would vote on it on Friday. Republicans, who control the Senate, said it would die in their chamber.

“There are those who said, ‘Let’s just pause,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said dramatic action was needed to carry the country through the pandemic. “This is an historic challenge and, therefore, a momentous opportunity for us to meet the needs of the American people to save their lives, their livelihoods and our democracy.”

Senate Finance chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa was among Republicans who said Congress should take some time, up to four weeks, to assess the impact of previous aid packages and decide if more is needed. “We’re just pausing for a while to see what the needs are,” Grassley told reporters. Senate Republicans leaders also have advocated a pause in action.

The House bill would increase SNAP benefits by 15 percent, waive work requirements for recipients and block USDA from implementing three regulations that would narrow eligibility for food stamps. Anti-hunger groups pressed unsuccessfully for the increase in benefits in the $2 trillion relief package enacted in late March.

“The Pelosi package, while not perfect, steps up to the plate and provides the type of response the nation needs,” said Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The think tank says higher SNAP benefits will help low-income Americans buy food and act as an economic stimulus. Congress passed a temporary increase in benefits in response to the 2008-09 recession.

Also in the bill are an additional $10 billion for SNAP, to cover the cost of higher enrollments, $3 billion in additional funding for child nutrition, including aid to school food programs, $1.1 billion for WIC and $150 million to help food banks meet increased demand for help. The bill also would extend the so-called P-EBT program through the summer and until schools re-open. The program is due to expire with the end of this school year.

In addition, the bill would allow the USDA to spend money for removal and disposal of livestock due to supply chain interruptions and to help processing plants during public health emergencies. At present, USDA can assist livestock producers only during natural catastrophes that kill farm animals.

The bill includes a provision that requires USDA to obtain congressional approval before it uses from from the Commodity Credit Corp, a Depression-era agency that is known as “USDA’s bank” and can spend up to $30 billion before needing replenishment. House Agriculture chairman Collin Peterson says the provision will restore congressional control over spending.

Ethanol producers would qualify for federal aid under the bill, if they were forced offline for at least one month between Jan 1 and May 1. They would qualify for a USDA payment of 45 cents a gallon based on half of the volume they produced during the corresponding month or months in 2019, said the trade group Growth Energy.

A one-page summary of the bill is available here.

A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here.

To read the text of the bill, click here.