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Millions could lose food stamp benefits with the end of the federal Covid-19 public health emergency this summer.
With millions of Americans facing the possibility of getting cut off from food assistance in the coming months, mayors on Friday urged Congress to extend pandemic era aid programs designed to help ensure that people have enough to eat.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed by Congress in March 2020 gave states greater flexibility to let more people receive food stamps, and increased the benefits recipients could get during the pandemic. The law also waived a three-month limit on unemployed, childless adults, younger than 50, accessing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
That extra help, though, will end when the Biden administration declares the nation’s Covid-19 public health emergency to be over.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra last extended a public health emergency declaration in January, until April 16. Becerra is expected to renew the declaration for another 90 days, but the public health emergency could end in July, and with it the additional food assistance.
“During the pandemic, while many households turned to federal nutrition programs for the first time, those households with already low incomes found themselves depending even more on federal nutrition programs to meet their nutrition needs. Expanding eligibility and increasing benefit levels of federal nutrition programs lifted millions of Americans out of poverty during this challenging time,” Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, the co-chairs of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ food policy task force, wrote the Democratic chairpeople and the top Republicans on the House and Senate agriculture committees. Richmond, Virginia Mayor Levar Stoney also signed the letter.
“Unfortunately, the current expanded eligibility and increased benefit levels are temporary and will end when the COVID-19 public health emergency ceases, even though millions of Americans will continue to struggle,” the mayors wrote.
“As families make difficult decisions around affording food, medications, housing, and more, increased food insecurity will likely lead to adverse health outcomes, creating additional burdens on our already-strained healthcare systems,” the letter added.
The mayors also argued that the loss of help buying food would hurt local economies.
Spokespeople for Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Rep. David Scott of Georgia, the chairpeople of Congress’ agriculture committees, had no immediate comment on Friday.
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty based in Washington, D.C.