Throughout the pandemic, the Feeding Louisiana network has seen unprecedented demand for its services from those who can no longer afford to access food supplies through typical commercial channels.
Pre-pandemic, more than 751,000 Louisianans were at risk of hunger, however the need for emergency food assistance continues to rise due to hourly-wage and other gig-economy employees suddenly being out of work, school children losing access to daily school or summer program breakfasts and lunches, college students being out of school with no access to meal plans, and seniors who are suddenly seeing their retirement savings dwindling and have limited access to food.
Preliminary estimates of food insecurity during the pandemic put rates in Louisiana to be anywhere from 35% to 40%, with more than 1 million Louisianans at risk of hunger. In this environment, Louisiana food banks are serving nearly 70% more households than pre-pandemic levels with a significant proportion of those being households who are entirely new to the emergency food system. The food supply chain continues to be severely limited in response to these closures, with higher food prices, widespread scarcity of non-perishable foods, and delayed or disrupted deliveries.
Since its inception, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has served as the cornerstone program in the nation’s fight against hunger. Under normal conditions, it is estimated that for every meal provided by a food bank, SNAP provides nine. However, with the current historically high rates of unemployment, food insecurity, and individuals accessing the emergency food system, SNAP is more important than ever to ensure that Louisiana families can keep food on the table for the duration of this crisis and beyond.
By design, SNAP is particularly effective in addressing food insecurity during times of crisis, natural disasters, or economic downturn. In these times, SNAP is immediately available to anyone who has been affected and newly meets the threshold for eligibility. While the scope of need has been remarkably high, this responsiveness was no different during the COVID pandemic; nearly 100,000 new households enrolled in SNAP in the first two months of the pandemic in Louisiana alone. The benefits provided through the program are then spent at authorized retailers and farmers markets around the state, providing much needed revenue within our local economy. Feeding America estimates that for every dollar spent on SNAP generates $1.54 in economic activity; during this time of economic downturn, the ripple-effects generated from SNAP benefit spending are particularly important.
A strong Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is key to helping Louisianans and their communities weather this crisis and the ensuing economic downturn, but it can do more. We must continue to strengthen and expand the SNAP program so that it is accessible and effective for all eligible families facing hunger during this time. In order to do this, we urge the following provisions be included in the next national COVID-Stimulus Package:
> Increase SNAP by 15% for the duration of the public health crisis and economic downturn.
> Increase minimum SNAP benefits from $16 to $30.
> Strengthen and extend the Pandemic-EBT program through August 31, 2020 to ensure that households who typically participate in school and summer meal programs continue to have access to nutritional support as typical meal sites remains closed due to the pandemic.
> Protect against any potential harmful policies and cuts to SNAP which will push eligible families off the program or make it otherwise difficult to access.