Up Front

Food security is economic security is economic stimulus

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Last week, Hamilton Project Director Jay Shambaugh outlined the components to a fiscal response to the COVID-19 pandemic and on Sunday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer released their list. Many of the policy proposals put forth in the Hamilton Project and Washington Center for Equitable Growth volume, Recession Ready: Fiscal Policies to Stabilize the American Economy, make the list.

Increasing food purchasing power should be a central part to any stimulus package; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly the Food Stamp Program) is an incredibly effective automatic stabilizer. In this piece, we briefly detail policy responses tailored to the pandemic to support food security, particularly for households with children. While the Trump Administration has signaled some flexibility, for example in granting waivers to allow for meals to be served in the event of a school closure, much more needs to be done to ensure that the food safety net kicks in.

First, there should be Congressional action to support SNAP benefit expansions, through increases to maximum benefit levels overall and for households with children. Specifically, Congress can act to:

Second, Congress should take steps to maintain eligibility in both SNAP and school meal programs. Last week, the U.S. District Court heard arguments in a lawsuit regarding SNAP work requirements that more than a dozen states and localities filed to stop the Trump Administration from removing hundreds of thousands of people from SNAP rolls and weakening the ability of the program to respond to economic downturns. The Trump Administration has put out a proposal to revise broad-based categorical eligibility (cat-el), the subject of a recent House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing, on the heels of the Supreme Court upholding the controversial “public charge” rule. With an April 1 effective date for the SNAP work requirement waiver final rule looming and actions pending on cat-el and public charge, Congress can act to:

To alleviate economic hardship and stimulate the economy during this time of uncertainty, we should provide additional resources to improve food security and maximize the reach of these programs.  The concrete policy ideas put forth in this piece are evidence-based proposals that would improve household and child food security while supporting macroeconomic stability in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.