U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced legislation to break down barriers to essential social services as Americans struggle to recover from the COVID-19 crisis. Gillibrand will reintroduce the Health, Opportunities, and Personal Empowerment Act, or HOPE Act, comprehensive legislation to break down barriers for low-income individuals and families so they can access the social services and benefits they need to make ends meet. Throughout the pandemic, millions of recently unemployed Americans have turned to government support services — many for the first time — in order to keep food on the table and pay their bills. The HOPE Act would modernize and streamline how eligible recipients access critical nutrition, housing, health care, job training, and unemployment assistance programs. Companion legislation was reintroduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Joe Morelle (D-NY).
“Throughout the course of the pandemic, millions of Americans have lost their jobs and are struggling to support their families,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Now, in this critical time of recovery, the federal government has a responsibility to make anti-poverty, health care, nutrition, housing, and work support programs accessible to as many people as possible. The HOPE Act would remove barriers for low-income and underserved Americans to access government services, and streamline our safety net programs. I’m proud to reintroduce this legislation with Congressman Morelle and I will continue to prioritize support for New Yorkers in need.”
“Every day, families rely on government programs to help put food on the table and meet basic needs—and these services have been in even greater demand during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Congressman Morelle. “Unfortunately, there are significant barriers that too often hold individuals back from accessing the benefits they need and deserve. I’m proud to partner with Senator Gillibrand on our legislation, the HOPE Act, to help empower Americans with the tools to succeed and ensure no one is left behind.”
Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, a nationwide direct service and advocacy organizations said, “Given that the newly-enacted recovery act authorizes additional, live-saving hunger and poverty assistance, it’s particularly urgent for advance the idea, which Hunger Free America has long championed, of making it easier for low-income people to apply online for a wide variety of benefits, and enable them to voluntarily agree with government and nonprofit agencies on plans to increase their long-term economic opportunity. We are very grateful that Congressman Morelle and Senator Gillibrand are taking the lead in turning this idea into reality. HOPE accounts and actions plans have the potential to dramatically improve and modernize safety net programs both during the crisis and beyond – thereby both reducing poverty in America and ensuring more program efficiency for taxpayers. This effort is also perfectly in-line with the Biden Administration’s push to upgrade the nation’s digital infrastructure. As always, we appreciate Senator Gillibrand being one of the nation’s top leaders on hunger and food issues.”
More than 82 million people have applied for unemployment benefits since the beginning of the pandemic. However, the process has been mired in administrative challenges including unreasonably long wait times, misinformation regarding eligibility, dropped calls, and the inability to start the application process. Additionally, while demand for nutrition services like SNAP has skyrocketed, many states and counties are struggling with significant backlogs. Hardworking families are relying on these programs more than ever, yet they have faced unacceptable delays or have been turned away for benefits for which they qualify. The HOPE Act would provide meaningful change to the administration, application, and distribution of key benefits at a time when they are needed the most.
A summary of the legislation can be found here.