USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack: Hungry Americans Need the American Rescue Plan Now
By Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
This week, the U.S. Senate will consider passage of the American Rescue Plan, President Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief package to help our nation and families recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The vast majority of Americans are supportive of the legislation because they see elements like $1,400 per-person checks as absolutely essential to paying the bills and keeping food on the table as the nation battles COVID-19.
What they may not recognize is that the American Rescue Plan is also one of the strongest pieces of legislation in recent memory dedicated to addressing hunger and food insecurity. While millions of Americans struggle to get three square meals a day, the legislation directs the USDA to disburse billions of dollars in nutrition assistance to hungry and food insecure Americans.
After he was elected, President Biden committed to get financial assistance to Americans as quickly as possible. He figured—rightly so—that we are in a race against time, and without additional government assistance, the economic and public health crises could worsen in the months ahead; schools would not be able to safely reopen; vaccinations would remain far too slow; and the hunger crisis gripping our nation would only worsen.
Hunger has increased throughout the pandemic, with as many as 30 million adults and 14 million children living in a household where they may not always get enough to eat. Further, the pandemic has exacerbated longstanding disparities in food insecurity. Black and Latino adults are more than twice as likely as white adults to report that their households did not get enough to eat. Even before the pandemic, nearly 22 million children relied on free or reduced-price school meals to get the nutrition they need to grow and learn.
Today, without school in session in many parts of the country, those kids are going hungry. The American Rescue Plan provides important funding to USDA to expand federal nutrition assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and a complementary program that helps mothers and children under 5, as well as other emergency benefits to children, seniors, and the disabled. Today, approximately 43 million Americans rely on SNAP to provide access to healthy groceries. It is one the nation’s strongest poverty prevention tools. When I served as Secretary of Agriculture under President Obama during the Great Recession, SNAP kept at least 4.7 million Americans — including 2.1 million children — out of poverty in 2015 alone. We need SNAP and other programs like it today to do what they were designed to do, which is to give a helping hand to Americans when the chips are down.
Much like COVID-19 requires strong medicine to beat the virus, hunger also requires a strong response. The American Rescue Plan expands SNAP benefits by 15 percent and it makes sure parents of low-income children have a few additional dollars in their pocket to spend on healthy food when those kids cannot access school meals. The legislation also helps new mothers, infants and children under the age of 5 get the food they need to stay healthy and resilient.
The President has said it over and over, but it bears repeating: This is a national emergency and we need to treat it like one. The American Rescue Plan recognizes that hunger is one of the pandemic’s symptoms, and it does not skimp on the treatment.