USDA Tackles Food Insecurity, Expands Program Access
Food and Nutrition Service Highlights from the First Year of the Biden Administration
WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2022 – USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) today reflected on its efforts over the past year to ensure households across the country have access to a nutritious diet. Throughout the first year of the Biden-Harris Administration, FNS bolstered its nutrition assistance programs through a wide range of administrative actions and with the unprecedented $12 billion investment in food assistance provided by the American Rescue Plan Act.
“The pandemic has placed extraordinary stress on American families, and millions have struggled to put enough nutritious food on their tables,” said Stacy Dean, deputy under secretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services. “Over the past year, we have taken numerous actions to address this immediate, urgent reality while also working toward the longer-term goal of helping this country's nutrition support system build back better than ever before.”
“We are committed to increasing both food security and nutrition security, which is having consistent access to a healthy diet that supports good health and combats diet-related disease,” added FNS Administrator Cindy Long. “FNS and the administration are working hand-in-hand to make meaningful nutrition assistance benefits – that tackle hunger and promote health – accessible to all those in need.”
Highlights of FNS efforts to strengthen food and nutrition security since January 2021 include:
Supporting SNAP Benefits and Nutrition Education
SNAP is one of the most effective ways to improve access to healthy food for low-income families. Approximately 43 million Americans depend on the program to feed their households. USDA and the Biden-Harris Administration have worked to strengthen SNAP and address the rise in food insecurity due to the pandemic through actions including:
- Temporarily increasing SNAP benefits including extending a 15% increase for all SNAP benefits, which provided an additional $3.5 billion to SNAP households, as well as providing a $1 billion a month boost in benefits specifically for the lowest income households through emergency allotments.
- Increasing the maximum SNAP benefit amount by 21% through the re-evaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan, used to calculate SNAP benefits, to put healthy food within reach for SNAP households.
- Expanding SNAP online shopping opportunities, making it possible for participants in 47 states and the District of Columbia to have the same food shopping conveniences as the rest of America.
- Temporarily extending SNAP to certain struggling college students who would otherwise be ineligible to receive benefits.
- Leveraging virtual learning platforms to provide vital SNAP Nutrition Education services.
Closing Meal Gaps for Kids
To ensure children would continue to receive vital nutrition despite constantly evolving, pandemic-related challenges, USDA issued a broad range of flexibilities to allow school meal programs and childcare institutions across the country to continue providing safe, healthy meals free of charge to America's school children. In addition, throughout the past year, FNS and the Biden-Harris Administration have taken many actions to bolster food and nutrition security for children. For example, USDA:
- Enhanced the Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) program, which provides food-buying benefits to families with children who may miss meals due to pandemic-related school closures. USDA increased the daily benefit amount by approximately 16%, providing a family with three children with up to $50 more per month. P-EBT also helped fill the nutrition gap throughout summer 2021, providing a total of $12 billion in benefits.
- Allowed all kids to receive free school meals in school year 2021-2022, while also reimbursing schools for the meals they serve at the much higher Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) rates. Further, as SFSP rates are adjusted each January based on the cost of food, most schools will now receive an additional 25 cents per lunch, helping schools cope with rising food costs and continue to serve nutritious meals to kids.
- Provided $1.5 billion to states to reimburse schools for emergency operating costs they incurred during the early months of the pandemic, increasing resources available to schools to continue serving children high-quality, nutritious meals.
Expanding Food Assistance for Vulnerable Communities
Tens of millions of Americans rely on USDA's nutrition assistance programs to put food on the table. These programs are among the most far-reaching, powerful tools available to ensure that all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, or background, have access to healthy, affordable food. Over the past year, USDA expanded several nutrition assistance programs to better reach underserved populations facing food hardship. For example, FNS:
- Declared homeless young adults under age 25 eligible to receive meals through emergency shelters participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
- Provided high-need families with pre-packaged, fresh produce through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) Fresh Produce initiative. This is one of many ways USDA is supporting the emergency food system, including a $1 billion investment to ensure states, food banks and local organizations can reliably serve their communities.
- Increased food assistance to low-income seniors by nearly $37 million in additional support to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP).
- Provided $490 million to temporarily boost benefits for participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). This gave states, tribal nations and territories the option to increase the cash-value voucher benefit – used to buy fruits and vegetables – by approximately three times the normal amount.
- Launched a major initiative to leverage $390 million provided by the American Rescue Plan Act for outreach, innovation, and modernization to WIC and the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. These sweeping improvements will help better reach and serve women and children at nutritional risk.
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service leverages its 15 nutrition assistance programs to ensure that children, low-income individuals, and families have opportunities for a better future through equitable access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food, while building a more resilient food system. Under the leadership of Secretary Tom Vilsack, FNS is fighting to end food and nutrition insecurity for all through programs such as SNAP, school meals, and WIC. FNS also provides science-based nutrition recommendations through the co-development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. To learn more, visit www.fns.usda.gov and follow us on Twitter @USDANutrition.
- Press Release: U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Highlights Key Work in 2021 to Promote Food and Nutrition Security
- Blog: Tackling Food Insecurity through Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer
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