Textile mills and specialty crops will get three-fourths of the $330 million announced by the USDA on Tuesday in a broad-ranging program to help producers and the food supply chain recover from the financial impacts of the pandemic. In addition, the package earmarked $75 million in grants to help low-income Americans buy fruits and vegetables.
Two months into the pandemic, roughly $1 in $8 spent on groceries in the United States came from the federal food assistance programs, SNAP and the newly created Pandemic EBT (P-EBT), compared to $1 of every $14 beforehand, said the USDA on Tuesday.
State agriculture officials called for continuation of USDA's $5.5 billion food box give-away program, now under review by the Biden administration. "With some enhancements, we can extraordinarily expand the benefits of the program by allowing more producers to contribute and increasing the amount of food we can share with families in need," said Barb Glenn, chief executive of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA).
U.S. anti-hunger programs should address the twin challenges of nutrition — supplying enough food and encouraging diets built around healthy food — at the same time after decades of focusing on a lack of food for poor Americans, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday.
Boosted by a landslide confirmation vote in the Senate, Tom Vilsack will begin his second stint as agriculture secretary on Wednesday facing problems from the pandemic and climate change to rising hunger rates in America. His own list of goals is much longer and each item on it is a blockbuster.
Congress can reduce hunger during the pandemic by extending the 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits and providing an additional $3 billion for WIC, as suggested by President Biden, said Sen. Bob Casey to the Consumer Federation of America on Tuesday. "We have to stay on that path where we're focused on substantial investments" in public nutrition.
The USDA is trying to expand online grocery shopping for SNAP recipients by adding local and regional grocers to the program, said Agriculture deputy undersecretary Brandon Lipps. The USDA said over 1 million SNAP households shopped online in September, out of more than 22 million households participating in the program.
The stopgap USDA program that helps low-income parents buy food for their children who miss school meals because of closures will be renewed for a full year, rather than expiring on Sept. 30, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday. Extension of the so-called Pandemic EBT program was part of nearly $8 billion in nutrition assistance added to a government funding bill during negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Pelosi said in a statement.
In a largely positive review of government programs to address mounting hunger during Covid-19, a panel of experts and advocates speaking at the National Food Security Conference on Wednesday encouraged Congress to boost spending on the anti-hunger programs it has developed since the pandemic began. (No paywall)