Wolf: Pa.’s food assistance programs sustain health during disaster emergency | Roads and Traffic

Will Kreznick

The departments of Agriculture and Human Services (DHS) discussed the Wolf Administration’s efforts to support Pennsylvania’s charitable food network and food assistance programs so that no Pennsylvanians are going hungry throughout the COVID-19 public health crisis, thanks to the disaster declarations issued by Governor Tom Wolf. Pennsylvania’s disaster declaration authority […]

The departments of Agriculture and Human Services (DHS) discussed the Wolf Administration’s efforts to support Pennsylvania’s charitable food network and food assistance programs so that no Pennsylvanians are going hungry throughout the COVID-19 public health crisis, thanks to the disaster declarations issued by Governor Tom Wolf.

Pennsylvania’s disaster declaration authority has allowed the administration to leverage more than $1 billion in additional, federally funded food assistance as well as other resources and regulatory flexibilities necessary to rise to the challenges many Pennsylvanians continue to experience.

Administration officials spoke ahead of next month’s primary election when Pennsylvanians will choose whether the commonwealth should continue with its existing disaster declaration process or create a new one.

Related reading: All Pa. voters eligible to vote on constitutional amendments May 18

“Over the past year we saw that disease follows no timeline, and as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the commonwealth food insecurity rates in Pennsylvania increased by 30 percent from 2019,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.

“The ability for the administration to act quickly and pull resources together, through emergency powers, allowed any Pennsylvanian in need of food to simply show up at a food bank or say they need help, with no proof of eligibility, and receive food for themselves and their family,” Redding continued. “As we work to recover from the pandemic, we hope to continue having resources available for the nearly 1.5 million Pennsylvanians projected to face food insecurity in 2021. Recovery takes time and Pennsylvanians deserve to rest easy knowing their government has their back.”

Inadequate food and chronic nutrient deficiencies can have profound effects on a person’s life and health, including increased risks for chronic diseases, higher chances of hospitalization, poorer overall health, and increased health care costs. As the nation continues to face the COVID-19 pandemic, access to essential needs like food is more important than ever to help keep vulnerable populations healthy and mitigate co-occurring health risks.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities recently found in a survey conducted in February 2021 that 22 million adults nationwide said their households did not have enough to eat in the previous week – more than double the number that indicated the same in 2019.

Feeding America projects that 12 percent of adults and 17 percent of children in Pennsylvania will be food insecure in 2021. Feeding America notes that 2021 projections and overall food insecurity experienced in 2020 was lower than initially projected because of work by federal, state, and local governments as well as work by the charitable food network.

Since March 2020, Pennsylvania’s food banks have provided more than 283 million pounds of food. Food banks and the dedicated volunteers who have staffed their distribution operations have served an average of 551,700 people around the commonwealth each week. These networks provide fresh, healthy produce, dairy products, proteins, and shelf-stable products to help individuals and families in their communities meet this essential need.

Pennsylvania has also leveraged an authority granted through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to request additional funds through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a federally-funded food assistance program that helps more than 1.8 million Pennsylvanians by providing money each month to spend on groceries, helping households to purchase enough food to avoid going hungry.

For every meal provided by a Feeding Pennsylvania food bank, SNAP provides nine. SNAP funds can only be spent on certain food products like fresh produce and meat, dairy products, and other groceries. While SNAP is intended to be a supplemental program, during a pandemic and historic unemployment, resources are strained, particularly for the lowest-income Pennsylvanians.

Since March 2020, Pennsylvanians have received about $100 million each month and more than $1 billion total in federally funded SNAP funds to help certain low-income individuals and families – about 60percent of Pennsylvania’s SNAP population.

Following a settlement between the United States Department of Agriculture and Community Legal Services, all SNAP households will now begin to receive a regular monthly emergency allotment so long as Pennsylvania’s disaster declaration, which is required to authorize emergency allotments, remains in place. The Biden Administration recently issued guidance indicating that SNAP recipients in all states will now be able to receive an additional minimum supplement of $95 each month.

“This federally-funded food assistance we have been able to provide through SNAP is a critical investment in our communities’ ability to endure and recover from the challenges of this pandemic – challenges that can have a long-term impact on health and well-being our communities if we allow them to persist,” said DHS Senior Advisor Teresa Miller. 

“As we look toward this recovery, we must continue to support these programs and our charitable food network so they are able to meet the continued need and we may all move forward from this challenging year together,” Miller continued.

This new interpretation means that $150 million in federally funded food assistance will be available to support individuals and families in Pennsylvania as well as the grocers, small businesses, and food producers and retailers that accept SNAP, directly benefitting our local economies.

In May 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a study on the influence of SNAP redemptions on the economy and county-level employment in the time leading up to, during, and after the Great Recession. This study found that SNAP redemptions could have a greater economic stimulus impact than other forms of government spending per dollar spent, especially during a recession, because they are paid directly to low-income individuals and keep food on the table while supporting local food producers, retailers, and other small businesses in the grocery supply chain across Pennsylvania.

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