By Grace Davis
New York City, New York
In his first few weeks in office, President Joe Biden has already taken several steps to address the widespread food insecurity in the United States, much of which has been increased by the pandemic.
On January 22, Biden signed an executive order with the intention of expanding food assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as increasing the amount of aid available to individuals. The executive order also plans to extend the period of increased SNAP benefit allotments beyond the original six months that President Donald Trump had ordered, instead extending the benefits through September.
Biden’s order aims to increase SNAP emergency benefits for the most food insecure families and individuals in the country. Under the Trump administration, each family that wasn’t receiving the maximum monthly benefit from the government was eligible to receive that amount from SNAP, while very low-income households that were already receiving the maximum monthly benefit were not eligible for maximum SNAP benefits. Biden called for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to explore options that would increase SNAP benefits for the most food insecure and low-income families.
In an interview with Today, Feeding America Managing Director of Policy Robert Campbell expressed enthusiasm for Biden’s new plan and emphasized that “[food policy experts] want to make sure that those with the lowest incomes who are struggling the most are not left out.”
In addition to his emphasized inclusion of low-income families, Biden has also taken steps to ensure that immigrants are eligible to receive equal food security benefits. On February 2, the Biden administration signed an executive order to reassess the Public Charge rule, a piece of legislation described by New York food security organization City Harvest as a “harmful policy that discourages immigrants across New York City and the country from accessing SNAP and other important public benefits.” If the rule is terminated, thousands of immigrant New Yorkers will have fairer access to food relief. City Harvest has initiated a petition calling on Biden to officially end the Public Charge Rule and the inequity it has caused.
In New York and other towns and cities throughout the country, many children are facing pandemic-induced food insecurity. In a typical year, they would be receiving a significant portion of their nutrition from school lunches. Biden has called for a 15% increase to the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT), a federal program that connects families with kids with food dollars comparable to the value of meals missed because of COVID-induced school and childcare closures.
While Biden’s actions will provide critical support to millions across the country, some have stressed the need for longer-term, institutionalized legislation. According to the Washington Post, Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, said, “these actions are not a substitute for comprehensive legislative relief… but they will provide a critical lifeline to millions of American families.”
The goal of long-term food policy reform raises the question: Can any administration make the dream of a hunger-free United States a reality? Some think the answer is yes; Beth Daley, editor and general manager of the Conversation, argued in her February 2 article for the publication that the Biden administration has all the resources—from SNAP to an extensive agricultural supply chain to the overall economic capacity—to “eliminate food insecurity in the United States.”
There are numerous parallels between the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to that of the Great Depression. In both instances, millions of families across the United States lost their jobs and were left food insecure.