TUCSON, AZ — President Joe Biden on Friday signed a new batch of executive orders, one of which specifically aims to curb pandemic-induced hunger for millions of Americans in states including Arizona.
In 2020, record-setting unemployment and sudden health care expenses due to the pandemic caused a dramatic spike in the number of hungry Americans. Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States, originally estimated the number of people experiencing food insecurity in the United States would swell to 50 million by the end of the year.
One of the two latest orders from the White House hopes to provide much-needed relief to those facing the unprecedented hunger crisis.
The new executive order from Biden calls for the following:
Increase the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program by 15 percent, according to a Forbes report. The program currently allows low-income families to receive up to $5.70 per child for each day of school meals missed due to COVID-related closures. The order would give a family of three children more than $100 in extra benefits every two months, officials told the Washington Post.
Expand eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps, which provides funds for low-income families to buy food. The expansion would help the program reach an additional 12 million people, Forbes reported.
"The American people can't afford to wait," Brian Deese, the National Economic Council director, said during a Friday news conference. "And so many are hanging by a thread. They need help, and we are committed to doing everything we can to provide that help as quickly as possible."
Addressing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Thrifty Food Plan, which is the basis for determining SNAP benefits, is among the most significant changes included in Friday’s order, Lisa Davis, senior vice president of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, told The Washington Post.
Current metrics used to determine benefit amounts are out of date and don’t provide an accurate assessment of the economic realities most struggling households face, she added. Friday’s order will ask the USDA to consider beginning the process of revising the Thrifty Food Plan to better reflect the modern cost of a healthy basic diet.
The second executive order signed by Biden on Friday calls for the Office of Personnel Management to develop recommendations to pay more federal employees at least $15 per hour.
Though national food insecurity levels were at a 20-year low in 2019, according to data compiled by Feeding America, 35 million people — including more than 10 million children — still lived in food-insecure households. That number swelled in 2020 and was expected to reach 50 million by the end of the year.
Thankfully, coronavirus-worsened food insecurity hasn’t risen to the 50 million mark Craig Gunderson, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign economist, originally projected — largely because of congressional relief packages and an unemployment rate that didn’t surge as high as first feared.
“But 50 million people is still a big number,” he told Patch.
Still, food insecurity isn’t a new problem in Pima County.
Before the pandemic threw millions of Americans into unemployment, 138,690 residents in Pima County were considered food insecure, according to Feeding America. The continuing economic fallout from the health pandemic has swollen that number to nearly 19.1 percent of residents who are on the brink of hunger.
Feeding America serves 200 member food banks that serve and supply 60,000 food pantries, kitchens and meal programs in Pima County and elsewhere around the country.
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Patch has partnered with Feeding America to help raise awareness on behalf of the millions of Americans facing hunger. Feeding America, which supports 200 food banks across the country, estimates that in 2020, more than 50 million Americans will not have enough nutritious food to eat due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This is a Patch social good project; Feeding America receives 100 percent of donations. Find out how you can donate in your community or find a food pantry near you.