Policy and Advocacy
As life begins to feel a bit more normal and our economy starts to recover, we cannot lose sight of the fact that too many families in our communities continue to struggle. Based on CBPP’s COVID Hardship Watch (which relies upon U.S. Census Pulse Survey data and was updated July 20), hardship rates remain well above pre-pandemic levels and large racial inequities persist.
With employment rising, the strains on household budgets have eased some in recent months, but unemployment remains high (7.4% in PA) and millions across the county report that their households did not get enough to eat or are not caught up on rent payments. Nationally, 20 million adults live in households that did not get enough to eat, 11.4 million adult renters are behind on rent, and some of the progress from early spring appears to be waning. Plus, we all must remember, even with food hardship down from its peak at the height of the pandemic, it remains well above pre-pandemic levels.
Data on these issues in Pennsylvania reveal that 25% of adults reported having difficulty covering usual household expenses; 19% of renters are not caught up on rent; and, nearly a million adults reported that their household sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the past seven days (representing 9% of households). These high rates of hardship persist even with the additional help of pandemic unemployment benefits, SNAP Emergency Allotments, P-EBT (funds provided to cover free school meals that were missed due to remote learning), and the 15% SNAP benefits bump.
Speaking of SNAP benefits, The Urban Institute released a recent study documenting the fact that SNAP benefits do not cover the average cost of a meal in 96% of US counties. Even with the temporary 15% SNAP benefits increase, which is in place only until the end of September unless Congress acts to extend it, the maximum SNAP benefit does not cover the cost of a low-income meal in 40.5% of US counties.
For example, based on SNAP benefit levels before the 15% increase, in Philadelphia County the SNAP benefit per meal is $1.97, while the average meal cost is $2.58 or 24% more than the SNAP benefit (so the temporary 15% increase is still too little to close the gap!). And while other anti-hunger programs and federal nutrition programs help, this further underscores the need for significant changes to the SNAP program.
- The exciting news is that we have a historic opportunity to build a stronger, more equitable economy where we all share in prosperity. On Wednesday, the Senate agreed to take up a $3.5 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package (see this statement from President Biden, as well as this fact sheet for more details). Senators voted 67-32 to green light the debate, with 17 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats to launch a floor effort that could conclude with the passage of a bill that would provide significant investments in our communities. We anxiously await further details and will keep you posted!