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Biden administration continues to undo Trump's cruel food assistance policies


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The Biden administration ended one of Trump's most cruel proposals Wednesday, ending an effort to kick 3 million people off of food assistance and end free school meals for about at least half a million children. The proposal was put forward when Trump's efforts to drastically cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the 2018 farm bill failed.

The proposal would have restricted (SNAP) benefits for households who have savings or other assets. Have a car? It'll be harder to get food. A senior or disabled person trying to save for an inevitable emergency? Sorry. Saving for your kids' school supplies? There go your food stamps. Get a small raise in your hourly wage? No more food help. The current rules for SNAP allow states to adjust the income eligibility limits to adjust for housing and child care costs that take a large share of income, allowing people to have safe homes and even allowing parents to work outside the home and still be able to feed themselves and their families. Because even more people shouldn't be forced into having to choose between having a roof or having food.

The proposal would have also ended free school lunch for at least half a million kids. With the SNAP benefits would have gone the free school lunches, a part of the whole program the Trump administration tried to keep quiet.

This was just one of three proposed rule changes from the Trump administration that would have left millions of people hungry, including work requirements and a cap on the deduction recipients can take for utility costs. The work requirements were struck down by a federal court last October, when food insecurity was a growing offshoot of the pandemic. The Trump administration appealed the decision, but a consequence of the election was the Biden administration dropping the appeal and asking for a dismissal, which the appellate court granted.

The Biden administration has made a point of putting hunger front and center. In April, it launched "the single largest summer child nutrition effort in our nation's history," according to press secretary Jen Psaki. The program will ensure that nearly 34 million children—including kids under six whose families are in SNAP and those who get free or reduced price school meals—will get $375 for food over the summer, through a Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) card. In addition to that, the administration has made free school lunches universal through the 2021-22 school year and has allowed districts the flexibility to provide meals besides lunch and to-go meals.

The American Rescue Plan also include a boost in SNAP benefits to the neediest families, as well as a 15% boost to other SNAP enrollees and an increase in Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children benefits.

From December to April, adult food insecurity dropped 43% according to the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey. Among the questions asked of respondents is whether they sometime or did not often have enough to eat over the previous week. That decline is significant and worth celebrating, but hunger as a reflection of larger inequality is still a major issue for the U.S. and since so many states are ending COVID-19 unemployment benefits early, some of those gains could be reversed.

In fact, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is finding a "dramatic" recent increase in food insecurity. "Some 19 million adults—9 percent of all adults in the country—reported that their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days, according to Household Pulse Survey data collected May 12–24." That's a huge increase from pre-pandemic levels, when just 3.4% of all adults reported "their household had 'not enough to eat' at some point over the full 12 months of 2019."

That argues for Biden's follow-up plans for creating jobs and increasing family financial security in the American Jobs infrastructure proposal and the American Families Plan. It also argues for ending the filibuster in the Senate that can prevent those plans from being realized. There are limits to what the administration can do alone. Reversing Trump policies is big and important, but it can't erase decades of increased inequality.