Guest columnists U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and U.S. Rep James McGovern: As hunger crisis deepens, families need relief

  • Congressman James McGovern. Gazette file photo

  • Sen. Edward Markey. Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via AP, Pool

Published: 7/20/2020 2:20:07 PM

Our country surpassed Brazil for the global record of new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in a single day. Despite President Donald Trump’s nonsensical claims that we have more cases because we have more testing, the reality is that this administration’s management of this crisis has been a disaster.

Job losses are worse than what we saw during the Great Depression, and food banks are struggling to keep up with crushing demand. According to the nonpartisan anti-hunger organization Project Bread, the novel coronavirus has worsened food insecurity by 30% in Massachusetts. But the hunger crisis didn’t start with the virus; it began long before the pandemic.

We have spent much our careers sounding the alarm about the crisis of food insecurity that many Americans face every day. In 2017, years before the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed, close to 40 million people struggled with hunger in our country, with one in six children left to wonder where their next meal would come from. It is estimated that because of coronavirus, an additional 17 million people could face food insecurity if job losses continue to surge.

As lines for food banks stretch down the block and around the corner, President Trump is missing in action. His food relief “plan” is hardly a plan at all, and it leaves New England starving. Although the Northeast accounts for the largest number of deaths caused by this pandemic, we’re receiving only 4% of federal funds from his so-called plan. Sadly, Trump’s failure of leadership follows four years of attempts by this administration to dismantle and defund the very social safety net programs designed to stop the kind of crisis we find ourselves in right now.

His administration has used every trick in the book to block access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), our nation’s premier anti-hunger program. That includes proposing a budget that would slash tens of billions of dollars and kick millions of vulnerable Americans, including veterans, off food assistance.

We are proud to have led the charge in the Massachusetts congressional delegation demanding the president stop these harmful new SNAP rules during this pandemic. But let’s be clear, as important as that is, no single change will end hunger on its own. We need big, fundamental changes in how our nation addresses the problem of hunger.

There are some steps that can and must be taken right now. That includes expanding unemployment insurance and strengthening programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which we called on the Trump administration to do earlier this year. It also includes increasing the maximum SNAP benefit for all households by 15% and strengthening the minimum monthly SNAP benefit from $16 to $30 — items which the House of Representatives included in the Heroes Act, and which we have demanded of Senate leadership.

We’ve also called on Congress to quickly pass legislation to exclude emergency federal pandemic unemployment compensation from income for SNAP eligibility, ensure low-income college students are eligible for emergency supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits, and prevent any changes to regulations governing the SNAP program in the midst of this pandemic. In addition, we’re working to ensure that SNAP beneficiaries can access benefits online, so they can shop for groceries and have them delivered to their door in compliance with social distancing.

Each of these proposals are rooted in the simple idea that no one should go hungry in the richest country in the history of the world. We have the resources, food and proposals to end hunger in America — the only question is whether we have the moral clarity and political will to act.

The Trump administration clearly does not. And the president’s continued indifference to hunger is a shocking embarrassment to a nation that could always count on our president — Democrat or Republican — to offer solutions during a crisis.

It is up to all of us — elected officials and residents — to step up and fill that void. As we continue working to make hunger a permanent priority inside of Congress, we ask that you work to make it a priority outside of Congress by learning the facts and talking to your family, friends and neighbors about hunger in America.

Trump may not have to worry where his next Big Mac is coming from, but his policies are causing more Americans to go hungry today than at any point in recent American history. The coronavirus pandemic has raised this nation’s consciousness about our decadeslong problem with food insecurity. Let’s harness this moment and turn this crisis into an opportunity to finally get serious about ending hunger in America once and for all.

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat who is running for reelection this year, and U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat representing the Massachusetts’s 2nd Congressional District, are the authors of this op-ed.
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