INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (INS) – The U.S. Senate has proposed a fourth round of legislation to stave off further economic damage from the novel coronavirus pandemic. But critics say the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act fails to provide the most basic of relief for Indiana families experiencing heightened hunger, uncertainty and distress.
Emily Weikert Bryant – executive director of Feeding Indiana’s Hungry – said the current proposal doesn’t increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefits, a decision that could have disastrous consequences.
She said in the coming months food banks expect to see from 40% to 70% increase in demand – at a time when food donations have dropped off and volunteers are scarce.
“And in light of all of that, the Feeding America network has distributed 1.9 billion meals since March 1, so there’s a heroic effort going on in the charitable sector,” said Bryant. “But for every one meal that the Feeding America system distributes, SNAP provides nine.”
Bryant adds that increasing SNAP benefits by 15%, a move supported by Feeding America and other anti-hunger groups nationwide, will help more families access nutritious food during the COVID-19 crisis.
Federal data shows SNAP participation among Hoosiers increased by 16% between February and May, and she said the state continues to see between four and six thousand new SNAP applications each week.
She said the SNAP program is one of the fastest forms of local economic stimulus.
“When low-income families receive their SNAP benefits to purchase groceries, these dollars are circulated within and stimulate these local economies,” said Bryant.
Jessica Fraser, director of the Institute for Working Families, said she’s troubled by lawmakers’ holdout on continuing the additional $600 a week in federal unemployment insurance benefits set to expire this week.
She said research shows Indiana residents in minimum-wage service-sector jobs would then receive between $180 and $200 a week in unemployment benefits through the state system.
“Think about that,” said Fraser. “If we don’t have the boost in the federal UI, then there’s no way that people can pay their bills on $180 a week in state UI.”
She added the additional $600 a week is critical for preventing families from sliding further into credit-card and loan debt.
Recent census survey data reveals that since the pandemic, one in five Hoosiers has used credit cards or loans to pay regular bills, and nearly one-fourth said they’ve tapped into savings accounts or sold assets.