While most of the supply chain issues for food that arose at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis have been resolved, food costs for consumers are still higher than they were back in January, in some places significantly so. High food costs and high unemployment means that from April through June, one in three families with children reported food insecurity, not enough food for every family member to have adequate nutrition every day.
Back in May, Feeding America reported "record levels" of food insecurity, projecting 54 million Americans, including 1 in 4 children, would not have enough to eat throughout the duration of the crisis. That was May, but it's going to get worse because the Trump administration is ending the flexibility states were given back in March to provide Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps to more people. The Department of Agriculture is now telling states they have to return to "normal operations," and put limits on food assistance. Normal. Operations. In a still-raging pandemic. In which tens of millions of people just lost the lifeline of extra unemployment benefits.
The Families First Act, passed back on March 18, gave states the flexibility to change SNAP eligibility and procedures to maximize assistance. And SNAP responded, adding more than 6 million people, about a 17% increase nationally, by May. The March law did two things. It allowed states to waive the requirement that currently participating households continue to prove their eligibility or risk losing the assistance. Almost every state did waive the requirements or extended the deadline, to give people—and states—more time to provide information and process cases. It also allowed states to simplify the application process to make sure that all the newly unemployed could get help right away.
Now the USDA is telling states they have to return to "normal" by next month. That's despite the fact that the SNAP caseloads have mushroomed since March and returning to "normal" means much more work. The demand that states start rigorously proving that people getting the benefits are eligible means that states could be cutting needy households just because the overloaded states can't fulfill the paperwork and interview requirements in the mandated timeline. The need is only going to increase now, with the end of the $600/week unemployment insurance bump. Many receiving the enhanced UI weren't eligible for food stamps, but with the loss of that income will be, just in time to have their access to assistance shut down.
Some states haven't even been able to get virtual application and eligibility processing established by now. Requiring new applicants to apply in-person for assistance is a burden on both staff and the applicants, one that could be dangerous in a COVID-19 hotspot. It's a burden that will stretch states. It's an arbitrary decision that will make more people go hungry.