Congress has the Chance to Alleviate Hunger through Historic Investments

By Alison Maurice, Domestic Policy Associate

Historic and transformative proposals are coming together in Congress to pass the Administration’s broad social spending plan through a budget process called “reconciliation,” known as the Build Back Better Act. The spending package makes a number of critical investments, including enhancing nutrition programs to tackle hunger and expanding tax credits that would lift families out of poverty. The initial $3.5 trillion price tag will likely be scaled back due to opposition from some moderate Senate Democrats. Democrat leaders have indicated the overall cost of the spending plan likely will fall somewhere between $1.5 — $3.5 trillion and that they plan to bring the bill to the floor for a vote at the end of October.

Behind closed doors, negotiations are underway, and it is unclear where the overall topline cost of the package will land. Reducing the overall price tag for the package will force hard choices about what provisions remain in the legislative package from initial proposals in the House. What is clear is that Americans will continue to struggle without necessary expansions of programs that have already proven effective at reducing hunger and poverty.

The Alliance to End Hunger is sending a strong message to the Congress and it is more crucial than ever that the anti-hunger network join together and elevate the urgent importance of ensuring investments are not removed or scaled back in the final Build Back Better Act.

[Check out all of our letters to Congress urging for investments in nutrition programs.]

What anti-hunger and anti-poverty proposals do advocates want to see cross the finish line?

Throughout the pandemic we have witnessed how millions of families have been left behind. We are at a critical moment where the U.S. can choose to support a more equitable recovery or one that continues to exacerbate health and income disparities and leaves underserved community that have experienced significant hardship, behind. The Alliance to End Hunger calls on Congress to keep alleviating hunger and poverty at the forefront of their priorities, as outlined below.

  • Make it easier for low-income children to access healthy foods.

There are a couple key proposals that will directly reduce childhood hunger. First, it is time to expend the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (Summer EBT) program nationwide to all eligible children. Summer EBT is a cash benefit distributed on a card to families with children who are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals. This benefit helps supplement a household’s food budget since those children are no longer able to access meals when school is not in session. Summer EBT is currently a demonstration project and only available to operate in handful of states. According to USDA’s evaluation of the Summer EBT demonstration project, the additional cash benefit successfully decreased food insecurity and increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains among children. Summer EBT gives families flexibility and communities another tool to alleviate childhood hunger in the summer.

Additionally, there are proposals to increase the number of schools that can offer school meals at no cost to children and technology investments to help automatically connect children who are enrolled in Medicaid with free meals at school. There are other investments for school kitchen infrastructure upgrades and incentives for schools to serve healthier meals.

  • Reduce hunger among seniors.

Newly supplemental federal funding will assist senior nutrition programs in continuing to meet the unprecedented demand for nutritious meals for older adults. It will also allow investment in critical infrastructure and technology, making it possible for local organizations to improve and acquire the crucial assets needed to sustain operations, such as kitchen equipment, delivery vehicles and safe, accessible buildings and facilities. Enacting this funding is vital to support the health, well-being and dignity of older adults both today and for years to come.

  • Support families with tax credits.

It is essential that Congress not let the new Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) provisions expire next year. The recent changes to the EITC and expanded CTC because of COVID-relief are already having a huge impact and need to be made permanent. Especially full refundability of the CTC so that children in families with little or no income may receive the full value of the credit. Columbia University researchers estimate that ongoing COVID tax credit relief efforts continue to have a sizable effect on reducing child poverty, with the greatest gains for Black and Latino children.

Why should anti-hunger advocates care about the Child Tax Credit?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly half of parents who received the monthly child tax credit used the money for food, cutting food insufficiency rates by more than 20% for households with children.

Is this a partisan issue?

First, ending hunger and poverty should not be a partisan issue. However, the current circumstance has made the budget reconciliation process very political. Currently, no Republican has vocalized support for the current bill that is being negotiated. This is unfortunate because many of the provisions mentioned above have received bipartisan support in earlier COVID-relief legislation. The on-going devastation of the pandemic requires Congress to prioritize passing legislation that alleviates hunger and poverty.

What can individuals or organizations do to help make sure these priorities cross the finish line?

Call on your Members of Congress to pass the Build Back Better Act with strong investments in anti-hunger programs and anti-poverty programs. Use the Alliance to End Hunger’s budget reconciliation priorities as a guide for your calls, emails, or social media engagement with your Members of Congress. Please reach out to Alison Maurice, domestic policy associate with the Alliance to End Hunger, to learn more about how you or your organization can get involved.