The Agriculture Department proposed an update to the WIC program on Thursday that would let participants buy three, or even four, times as many fruits and vegetables and would broaden the range of foods available through the program to reflect the diversity of the American diet. The expansion of fruit and vegetable allowances would increase WIC spending by 14 percent and require Congress to appropriate additional money to the $6 billion-a-year program.
Although lawmakers may try to cut SNAP benefits as part of the farm bill due in 2023, “we’re not going backwards,” said Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow at a food conference on Thursday. Deadline for the bill is Sept. 30, although “oftentimes there has to be an extension. So that may happen.”
The White House forfeited its opportunity for a bipartisan outcome of its hunger conference next week, so it should expect open skepticism about its recommendations, said five senior House Republicans on Wednesday.
Nearly one of every four Democrats in the House signed a letter to congressional leaders on Thursday, asking for a return to universal free school lunches and breakfasts.
Emergency food providers, such as food banks and school meal programs, will receive an additional $1.9 billion for the purchase of U.S.-grown foods, said the Agriculture Department on Wednesday.
More children would be eligible for free school meals and the WIC program would cover children up to age 6 under legislation approved on a party-line vote by the House Education and Labor Committee on Wednesday. While the bill’s Democratic sponsors claimed it will reduce child hunger, Republican Rep. Lisa McClain said it “is chock-full of new spending” when austerity is needed to dampen high inflation.
The House and Senate passed different versions of a slimmed-down $3 billion extension of school nutrition waivers within hours of each other on Thursday, leaving to the House a final vote on the legislation on Friday. “I look forward to the president signing this into law,” said Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow.
More than 53 million Americans turned to food banks, pantries, and meal programs last year, one-third more than before the pandemic, said Feeding America, a network of food banks and hunger relief groups, on Wednesday.
Warning that “pandemic aid is morphing into endemic aid,” the Republican leader on the House Agriculture Committee said on Wednesday that it was time to rein in food stamp spending. Other farm-state Republicans called for stricter eligibility rules as a way to push people into the workforce and said SNAP “promotes a perverse business of poverty.”
Pandemic-fighting waivers that allow schools to serve meals for free to all students will expire on June 30, House and Senate appropriators agreed on Wednesday, despite a campaign to continue universal free meals in the upcoming 2022-23 school year. An anti-hunger advocate said that millions of children will “face a hunger cliff when they lose access to summer and school meals.”
Congress should allow an additional year of federal waivers that make all children eligible for free meals at public schools, said nearly 2,000 anti-hunger, medical, religious and farm groups on Monday. The waivers are scheduled to expire on June 30 but the pandemic is far from over, said the groups in a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees.
The pandemic sent millions of Americans to food banks for help last year and the crush continues this year, said a food bank leader at a House hearing on USDA food donation programs on Wednesday. Feeding America, the largest food bank network in the nation, asked for a 45 percent funding increase for The Emergency Food Assistance Program, which buys U.S.-grown food and gives it to food banks to alleviate hunger.
House Democrats, acting in concert with President Biden, proposed a $1.75 trillion social welfare and climate change bill on Thursday that would combat global warming by paying farmers up to $25 an acre to grow cover crops on their land during fallow seasons. The bill also would help low-income families buy food for their children during the summer and make nearly 9 million students in high-poverty areas eligible for free school meals.
In a letter to President Biden, the leaders of every House committee said on Wednesday that the pandemic had revealed the extent of hunger in America. "We call on you to convene a national conference on food, nutrition, hunger, and health ... to design a roadmap to end hunger in America by 2030," they wrote.
To reduce food waste and help feed hungry Americans, the USDA will spend an estimated $400 million to reimburse dairy organizations for donating products to food banks, said Deputy Agriculture Secretary Jewel Bronaugh on Wednesday. The donation program was the second component of pandemic relief to dairy farmers that would total $2 billion this year.
When it reauthorizes child nutrition programs, Congress should provide meals for free to all students at public schools and offer financial assistance to low-income parents to buy food for their school-age children during the summer and holidays, activists said at a House hearing on Thursday.
The Biden administration withdrew a Trump-era proposal on Wednesday to tighten eligibility rules for food stamps and reduce SNAP enrollment by 3.1 million people. It was the second major Trump SNAP regulation to founder under the new administration. Both would have restricted access to SNAP benefits.
Democratic lawmakers announced companion House and Senate bills on Wednesday to give low-income parents money to buy food for their school-age children during the summer and when schools are closed during other parts of the year.