How the American Rescue Plan can help end child hunger for good


Today, our executive director, Ken Regal, joined U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of PA, the CEO of Macedonia Family and Community Enrichment Center, and the principal of Pittsburgh Miller Elementary School at a press conference about how the American Rescue Plan will address child hunger and poverty.

Together, they spoke to the desperate hardship so many families have been facing during the pandemic. Sen Casey’s slides above attest to the magnitude of the problem and how the rescue plan will address it.

You can watch the video of this event and learn more about how the rescue plan will specifically help low- and middle-income households.

As Sen. Casey said about the key tax credits and boosts to nutrition programs in the rescue plan:

Families are going to get thousands of dollars in their pockets…this isn’t nibbling around the edges and providing a few hundred dollars. This is meant to lift up these families: lift them up when they’re trying to pay for child care, lift them up when they’re trying to raise their kids, lift them up when they’re trying to feed their children.

So that’s why we wanted to make this as substantial and generous as it is. Because it’s pretty damn hard to raise children in any world, but especially in the world of the pandemic and an economic crisis…. We chose in this bill to invest in kids, to lift up families, to finally do what Washington hasn’t done in 40 years, which is to say to rich people and corporations: You’ve had your day. It’s time for kids and families to have their day.”

Will this be enough to help struggling families to the extent that’s needed? Below are the remarks Ken shared, speaking to that question.

Thank you Senator Casey for bringing us together today to talk about the impact of the American Rescue Plan.

The rescue plan is powerful — It makes major improvements to the public food safety net to protect our neighbors from hunger – particularly in boosting food stamp (or SNAP) benefits so that people don’t have to rely on charity to keep their families fed. SNAP’s monthly benefits have long been inadequate, with much more month than benefits. Extending the boost through September for all households means food on the table for millions, while it also translates to profits for food retailers and processors and wages for grocery store workers, truckers, farmers and farm workers.

The Rescue Plan also addresses another long-standing issue: summer hunger among kids. Finally, all students who receive free and reduced-price school meals will now qualify for an EBT benefit to help their families feed them over the summer.

The Rescue Plan renews the expansion of unemployment benefits, and enlarges the child tax credit and earned income tax credit – lifting millions out of poverty, cutting nearly in half the number of children in poverty. It is already delivering direct payments to tens of millions of low-income and working-class Americans that will help them pay bills and keep the wolf from the door.

Those payments will also provide spending power that can repair the economy as a whole to keep us on track.

Yes, the rescue plan is powerful – in part because it can prove that we as a nation can fight hunger and poverty comprehensively. It puts new tools to work that reduce the dire racial gap in income and wealth and opportunity.  And it sharpens the tools that we already know can work.

Those of us in the movement to end hunger have said for decades that success is not about distributing more charitable food – it is about addressing the inequities that create hunger in the first place. It is about building the political will to solve a fixable problem.

The covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the terrible life-and-death consequences of poverty and of racial injustice in our nation. But the pandemic didn’t create those conditions.

Before the pandemic began, about 34 million Americans – more than 1 in 10 of us – were living in poverty. And nearly half of Americans weren’t technically below the poverty line, but were only one crisis — an illness, an accident, a lay-off — away from financial catastrophe.

Such widespread hardship was also laid bare by the Great Depression nearly 100 years ago, by the social unrest of the 1960s, by mill closings in the 1980s, and by the financial crisis of a decade ago. In each crisis we learned a little, but not enough. Now is our chance to put these lessons to work.

Yes, this rescue plan is powerful – but it is temporary. These urgent relief measures are set to expire at the end of the year, or in some cases, even sooner.

When we see that increasing food stamp allotments reduces hunger for the entire month, will we just let that success expire? Once larger child tax credits enable parents to start to build a future for their kids, will we return to old myths about bootstraps? After the boost in unemployment runs out in September, will the job market for working-class people really have living wage jobs for all?

The pandemic has meant that 8 million more Americans are in poverty than were a year ago. But it is up to us – up to our political will – whether the “new normal” will merely be a return to the supposed good old days when “only” 34 million people in this country were poor.

Every day, Just Harvest helps people get the safety net benefits they need. We help people navigate the complex process of applying for food stamps. The pandemic has closed local offices of the PA Department of Human Services to in-person visits, so we are helping more than twice as many people apply as before. The rescue plan has to work for Harry, and Christine, and Gloria, and the others whose food stamp applications we prepared this past Friday and for the hundreds more we have helped in each of the last several months.

Just Harvest prepares tax returns for low-wage workers in Allegheny County at no charge, to make sure they receive the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. We’ve helped 1,136 households so far this tax season, enabling them to share $1.5 million in targeted tax credits. And thanks to the Rescue Plan, these numbers will grow in the months to come.

My dictionary defines rescue as “to free or save from danger.” We know the dangers of hunger and poverty for children and adults – learning difficulties, worse health, lower productivity, shorter life expectancy. These dangers will persist long after the pandemic.

And so, our rescue strategy must persist as well. We’re grateful for Senator Casey’s commitment over many years on these issues. The Senator understands, as we all should, that the crisis of poverty is not new. And that’s why Just Harvest calls on all of our elected officials, government and civic leaders to commit ourselves now to a rescue plan that truly frees all our neighbors from danger.

Not a short-term effort to be abandoned until the next crisis, but the foundation for a new way of governing — one that protects the vulnerable, invests in working families, and strives to ensure that all of us can thrive. Let’s use this moment to summon the political will and the political courage to bring poverty and hardship to an end, once and for all.

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