National WIC Association

December 21, 2020

COVID Relief Agreement Only First Step in Addressing Hunger

Press Contact: Natalie Moran


On Sunday evening, Congressional leaders announced an end-of-year spending deal that includes about $900 billion in additional COVID-related aid. The announcement promises a six-month increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and creates a USDA task force on online purchasing in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The announcement notably does not include a bipartisan proposal to increase WIC benefits for fruits and vegetables.


Rev. Douglas Greenaway, President & CEO of the National WIC Association, issued the following statement in response:


“Nearly one out of every five households with children reports not having enough to eat. No matter how you cut it, that is a consequence of policy decisions made by the White House and Senate Republican leadership to delay and dilute relief in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. It will have an impact for decades – shaping pregnancy and birth outcomes and impacting lifelong health and development for young children. Over seven months after the House moved decisively to address the economic fallout of COVID-19, this bipartisan deal – negotiated frantically before a holiday deadline – is only a first step in addressing the hunger and devastation felt by families across the country.


“Throughout this agonizing process, certain members of Congress have kept their focus squarely on the needs, including the food and nutrition needs, of the American people – Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Bobby Scott, and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow first among them. This agreement rightfully expands SNAP benefits, a decision that should have been made in March before millions of new families went months without access to enough food.


“In May, a bipartisan proposal introduced by Reps. Kim Schrier (D-WA) and Ron Wright (R-TX) would have complemented the SNAP expansion by enhancing WIC benefits for fruits and vegetables, ensuring continued access to nutritious foods for expectant and new parents and their babies and young children while strengthening markets for fruit and vegetable producers. This proposal – despite being included in the HEROES Act and the recent bipartisan framework unveiled by legislators like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) – was not included in the final agreement.


“Families with young children are left wondering: why not both? WIC providers would be the first to warn against splitting the baby, and this is yet another case where bipartisan negotiations water down comprehensive solutions to a national crisis. Babies and young children are not Red or Blue, they are in need of the quality nutrition support and services that WIC offers.


“Many other important priorities were similarly set aside in the final agreement – including desperately needed state and local government aid. In the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis, policymakers should leverage all available tools to help struggling families. Far more action will be needed to address hunger, job loss, and economic distress in the coming year.


“The agreement does take meaningful steps to move WIC toward online purchasing. As SNAP households gained access to online purchasing options in the early months of the pandemic, WIC families were left with an unequal shopping experience. Retailers have raced to implement makeshift measures that keep WIC shoppers safe, but USDA took limited steps to engage stakeholders in advancing alternatives to the in-person cashier transaction. Last night’s agreement includes a bipartisan proposal – championed by Reps. Andy Levin (D-MI) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) – to bring USDA to the table and issue a plan to realize online purchasing by no later than September 30, 2021.


“It is shameful that the White House and Senate Republican leadership delayed this necessary aid for so long, slamming the door on the outstretched hands of hungry Americans time and time again. Last night’s agreement is an urgently needed step toward mitigating the catastrophic impacts of hunger on American families, but it will not fully resolve the crisis. We urge the new Congress to immediately take up additional COVID relief in January, working with the incoming Biden-Harris Administration to comprehensively address the devastating hunger and nutrition impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”


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