House of Representatives Takes Important Steps to Provide Critical Nutrition Assistance During COVID-19
Colleen Barton Sutton
Statement attributed to Michael J. Wilson, director, Maryland Hunger Solutions
BALTIMORE, September 24, 2020 – Maryland Hunger Solutions is pleased that the House of Representatives has passed a Continuing Resolution bill that will provide much needed support to critical nutrition assistance programs helping to address the growing rates of food insecurity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Continuing Resolutions extends the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program through Fiscal Year 2021. Across the country, P-EBT is helping families provide meals for millions of children with additional funds to purchase food in place of school meals. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) originally announced and began accepting State plans for the Pandemic EBT program on March 20 to provide nutrition assistance benefits to cover the days that schools were mandated to close due to the pandemic between March-June. Maryland was approved to operate P-EBT for school year 2019-2020 on April 28.
While the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) reported that at the beginning of the 2019 – 2020 school year approximately 387,000 students were already received free or reduced-price school meals prior to the March closures, the economic strain of the pandemic has greatly increased the number of Marylanders experiencing food hardship. At the end of June, $162 million in federal dollars were distributed to a record-breaking number of over 430,000 eligible children to fill the gap of meals missed due to school closures in the 2019-2020 school year. As of July 14, $61.1 million of those dollars had been spent, boosting local economies and helping Maryland families keep food on the table.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had recently approved Maryland’s plan to extend the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program through September 30, which is estimated to provide an additional $47.5 million in federal nutrition benefits to families of over 439,500 Maryland students.
In addition to P-EBT, the Continuing Resolution extends the authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue child nutrition waivers through Fiscal Year 2021. USDA has previously used this authority to expand meal program flexibilities that allow for increased access to grab and go meals for children during pandemic-related school closures and while schools continue to operate in virtual and hybrid settings. Additionally, USDA has used this authority to extend waivers that allow WIC participants to continue to access services remotely through the duration of the pandemic.
While the Continuing Resolution also provides critical SNAP program flexibilities that allow states to mitigate the challenges of remote operations, it does not address the long-term need for increased SNAP benefits to help ease the challenges that many families are currently facing to keep food on the table. Moving forward, we urge Congress to expand upon the vital short-term investments made in this Continuing Resolution by swiftly creating a more comprehensive and longer-term COVID-19 relief package that include additional boosts to SNAP benefits as well as support to other critical assistance programs that families are relying on to stay healthy during these uncertain times. These are the policies that will address the health and the economy of our communities.
Maryland Hunger Solutions works to end hunger and improve the nutrition, health, and well-being of children and families in Maryland.