Pelosi backs higher SNAP benefits for next coronavirus bill

Rebuffed in negotiations on the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday that she will try again to raise SNAP benefits when Congress writes its next coronavirus bill. The House was scheduled to vote on the $2 trillion bill today. “I anticipate, I am certain, we will have a strong bipartisan vote,” said Pelosi.

Anti-hunger groups said they, too, would press for an increase in food stamp levels as a way to help poor people buy food and as an economic stimulus against the looming recession. House Democrats proposed a 15 percent increase in SNAP funding, equal to $25 per person, per month, early this week while negotiations were deadlocked between the Senate and the Trump administration. The House package also would have barred the administration from implementing three regulations that would end food stamps for nearly 4 million people.

“We were asking for a 15 percent increase in food stamps at this fragile time for many families. They would not do that in this bill,” said Pelosi during her weekly news conference. She listed “increased SNAP” among seven goals for the next coronavirus bill. “We have some other things we want to do.”

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said she was “deeply disappointed” that the SNAP increase was not part of the $2 trillion bill, which was passed by the Senate on Wednesday night. With House approval, it would go to President Trump for enactment.

“More action is needed to help struggling households keep food on the table,” said Luis Guardia, president of the anti-hunger Food Research and Action Center, which advocated a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits and a boost of the minimum monthly benefit to $30.

The 2009 economic stimulus package included a temporary 17 percent increase in SNAP benefits.

“The temporary SNAP benefit increase enacted in the Great Recession was both critical to preventing far larger increases in poverty and effective as economic stimulus,” said Robert Greenstein, head of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank. In a statement, Greenstein listed SNAP benefits as one of the “important areas” where the $2 trillion bill fell short. “Such an increase, provided in the last recession, is important to help struggling families put food on the table and help provide the boost to consumer spending that the economy needs.”

Although higher SNAP benefits were rejected, the $2 trillion package and a $100 billion coronavirus bill passed last week by Congress earmarked billions of dollars for public nutrition. There is $15.5 billion to pay for higher enrollment in SNAP and $8.8 billion in additional funding for child nutrition programs. The two pieces of legislation allocate $850 million for food donations through The Emergency Food Assistance Program, $500 million in additional funds for WIC, and $300 million for nutrition assistance to Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories.

The “families first” bill passed last week also suspended SNAP work and job-training requirements during the coronavirus crisis, a step that would preserve benefits for hundreds of thousands of people. It also permits states to temporarily increase SNAP benefits for some recipients to the monthly maximum and allows them to send benefits to low-income families to make up for the loss of free and reduced-price meals for their children during school closures.

To watch a C-SPAN video of Pelosi’s news conference, click here.