Our Food Stamps team completed more than 200 food stamp applications for clients in January. This was the fourth month in a row our numbers were that high, and the highest they’ve been in the entire 13-year history of our food stamp application assistance program.
The only other time we’ve had such a large number of requests for help is a couple of months during the Great Recession.
Most of the people calling us now have had their food stamp benefits suddenly terminated for no clear reason, or they just lost their job. They are just some of the huge, and growing, number of Americans who are straining to pay for the basics, including food.
“People are desperate. They don’t have time to wait,” says our food stamps specialist Amanda Sloane.
Unfortunately, the wait time for our help is days long, even though we have increased our staffing to respond to the pandemic’s impact. Every day there are dozens of people who we have not yet been able to get back to. Our organization is struggling to keep pace with the rising need for assistance.
Many of the people who call us were referred by the Dept. of Human Services (DHS), which has thousands of people contacting them. DHS closed its County Assistance Offices nearly a year ago when the pandemic started. CAO staff have been working remotely ever since.
Pennsylvania is now facing “a projected multibillion-dollar state operating deficit and other liabilities” due to the down economy and increased costs from the pandemic. So DHS hasn’t had the resources to switch to providing their usual services over the phone. We are also seeing that anytime someone at DHS quits, is off sick, or takes a leave, nobody replaces them.
Pennsylvanians need real relief fast. We need income assistance, we need help feeding our families, and we need protection from getting kicked out of our homes. We need the state government to have enough resources to be able to provide these key services quickly.
Republican leaders in Congress, like Sen. Mitch McConnell, fought to prevent the December COVID relief package from including direct fiscal relief to state and local governments. They also limited stimulus payments to a measly $600, prevented extra unemployment relief from going beyond mid-March, and only extended the eviction moratorium for a month.
The Biden-Harris “American Rescue Plan” is the right set of policies to address the high levels of hunger and poverty we’re seeing in communities. The $1.9 trillion comprehensive COVID relief package includes expanded unemployment and housing protections, $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals, a $15 minimum wage, and so much more to help low- and no-income families. It also provides crucial aid to state and local governments, so they can keep providing critical services to our communities and prevent further layoffs.
The plan also includes these direct anti-hunger measures:
- An extension of the 15% boost to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits that Congress passed in the last relief package. That increase was scheduled to end by June 30, 2021. The American Rescue Plan will continue the increase through at least September 2021, and for as long as the COVID-19 crisis continues.
- A $3 billion investment over several years to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to help low-income mothers of young children, and pregnant women, get the nutrition they need.
- A one-time emergency infusion of administrative support for state anti-hunger and nutrition programs to help get SNAP benefits to families that need them most.
What You Can Do
Republicans in Congress have opposed the scope of the American Rescue Plan, offering their own version, which is a paltry $600 billion. This version doesn’t go nearly far enough in helping struggling Americans, in addressing the pandemic, or in providing the boost our economy and our communities need.
So Democrats in Congress will try to bypass their likely obstruction of the plan by using the “budget reconciliation” process to put the plan in place. They will be working on this over the coming weeks and will need to get it passed before March 14, when extended unemployment benefits are set to expire.
Urge your Members of Congress to quickly pass this comprehensive COVID relief plan so the President can sign it into law before critical current aid expires next month. The 99% Pennsylvania campaign has set up an online action tool that allows Pennsylvanians to tell their member of Congress and Sens. Casey & Toomey to “Pass the American Rescue Plan!”