Editor’s Note: Levar Stoney is the Democratic mayor of Richmond, Virginia, and serves as the chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Children, Health and Human Services Committee. John Giles is the Republican mayor of Mesa, Arizona, and is a trustee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own.
Families across America are precariously perched on the edge of a hunger cliff. With inflation on the rise and supply chain backlogs, more families have been turning to food banks, forcing programs nationwide to ration supplies and cut services. And now the war in Ukraine is leading to more food shortages and driving up prices even further. Now is not the time to turn our backs on those who cannot afford to put food on the table.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has estimated that as many as 30 million adults and 12 million children are living in food-insecure households. And the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey found that in the last seven days, 10.3% of respondents sometimes or often did not have enough to eat. Local food aid organizations are essential community resources for families during this crisis, but they cannot do it all by themselves.
That’s why mayors across the United States are calling on Congress to take swift action to address the coming hunger cliff.
We’ve already seen what robust action and funding from Congress can do. Beginning in March 2020, Congress expanded eligibility and increased benefit levels of federal nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which serves more than 41 million people. These actions prevented more Americans from going hungry over the course of the pandemic.
However, if Washington doesn’t act soon, many of the programs that have served as a lifeline during the pandemic will expire, and millions more will go hungry. In early March of this year, as part of the Omnibus package, Congress failed to renew a vital school meal waiver program, which provides free lunches to those in need. It expires on June 30, and millions of schoolchildren will lose a vital benefit if it is not renewed. Expanded SNAP benefits are also set to fully expire once the Biden administration declares the nation’s Covid-19 public health emergency over, which could come as soon as this summer following the Biden administration’s latest 90-day extension starting on April 16. Combined, these actions threaten to force millions of families to choose between keeping food on the table and meeting other essential expenses.
There could not be a worse time to remove these safety nets.
But the good news is that nine bills have been introduced in Congress — all supported by America’s mayors — that would prevent millions from falling into food insecurity at the end of the Covid-19 public health emergency. For example, the Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2021 would permanently improve SNAP access and benefit amounts, and the Improving Access to Nutrition Act of 2021 would end time limits on SNAP eligibility, ensuring food security for those seeking full-time work. These bills must be passed, and Congress must also address the lapse in school meal waivers while millions of children are still without enough food.
Food security and equity should not be partisan issues. As leaders from both sides of the aisle, we’re committed to working with Congress to address food insecurity.
Congress must not fail to act. American families are counting on lawmakers to help them make ends meet during the greatest public health crisis of our generation.