U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), along with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-NC-12) today announced the introduction of the Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2021, which would expand and strengthen the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for vulnerable community members that are struggling to make ends meet and open benefits to Puerto Rico and all U.S. territories. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 35 million Americans experienced food insecurity. Today, that number has increased to 42 million Americans, including an estimated 13 million children. The rising cost of food in America outpaces SNAP benefits each year, forcing families to choose between putting food on the table and covering other essential expenses. The Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2021 would help to address these issues by raising the baseline benefit for all SNAP households, allocating more funds to those with large medical and housing expenses, and increasing access to the program.
“The United States was already facing a severe food crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We live in the richest nation in the world and yet, 42 million Americans are struggling with food insecurity. This is unacceptable,” said Senator Gillibrand. “SNAP provides a critical lifeline for so many families and it needs support more than ever to meet the needs of SNAP recipients. I am proud to work with Congresswoman Adams on the Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2021 to enhance SNAP benefits, break down the barriers to eligibility, and keep food on the table for all Americans.”
“Over 40 million Americans depend on SNAP for their meals, even though SNAP benefits are not generous enough to feed a family or prevent child hunger,” said Congresswoman Adams, Vice Chair of the House Committee on Agriculture. “The Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2021 will address this issue by strengthening the SNAP program for millions of people affected by COVID-19 as well as older Americans, people with disabilities, children, struggling parents, students, unemployed and underemployed people, and veterans. I’m grateful for the leadership of Senator Gillibrand and hopeful we will pass this bill and take a historic step towards ending hunger in the United States.”
“Feeding America strongly supports the Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2021,” said Vince Hall, Interim Chief Government Relations Officer, Feeding America. “SNAP is our nation’s greatest defense against hunger and has been vital for people facing hunger during this unprecedented time. It also helps ensure that our network of food banks is able to meet the need in local communities across the country. In fact for every one meal provided by the Feeding America network, the SNAP program provides nine. This bill will strengthen SNAP’s ability to help families in need put healthy food on the table.”
“Closing the Meal Gap Act would take our country a long way towards ending hunger. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s first line of defense against hunger but its impact has been undermined by its insufficient benefit amounts. FRAC is proud to support the Closing the Meal Gap Act to make long overdue corrections to flawed SNAP benefit calculations and get households access to more adequate nutrition they need for health and productivity. The Act’s positive impact also will be felt throughout all parts of the food chain—from farmers and food manufacturers, to truckers, grocers, and store clerks. We urge Congress to enact the Closing the Meal Gap Act and boost SNAP benefits to promote food security and hasten economic recovery.” – Luis Guardia, President of the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)
“The Coalition for Food Security Puerto Rico applauds the introduction of the Closing the Meal Gap Act to address two critical issues; one, the gross inadequacy of the Thrifty Food Plan as the basis for determining SNAP food benefits and second, the inequity of excluding Puerto Rico and other territories from full participation in SNAP. Congress has allowed a two-tier system of nutrition benefits for American citizens residing in Puerto Rico for nearly 40 years.” – Lillian Rodriguez Lopez, Coalition for Food Security Puerto Rico
“Access to nutritious food is one of the most basic human rights that should be guaranteed for everyone. Protecting and expanding access to SNAP is critical for Americans facing hunger and food insecurity. We fully endorse the Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2021 and see this as an important step towards meeting immediate needs so that we can collectively address the root causes of hunger and invest in long-term solutions,” said Noreen Springstead executive director of WhyHunger, a national nonprofit organization working to end hunger.
Despite the ongoing success of the SNAP program, roughly half of all households receiving SNAP benefits are still food insecure. SNAP benefits are based on the restrictive Thrifty Food Plan, which inadequately calculates benefits for today’s low-wage workers and their families. According to the 2019 USDA Household Food Security report, the typical U.S. household spent 28 percent more on food than the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan.
The Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2021 would:
- Increase the baseline for SNAP benefits by approximately 30 percent by using the Low-Cost Food Plan as the basis for the calculating the SNAP formula, to better take into account how much working people spend on food.
- Eliminate eligibility limits & unrealistic barriers by:
- Permanently authorizing the standard medical deduction in every state for seniors and disabled individuals applying for SNAP benefits at a minimum of $140. Individuals with high expenses could continue to apply for a higher, itemized medical deduction.
- Eliminating the cap on the Excess Shelter Deduction in the SNAP formula for all households to take into account the cost of living for SNAP recipients in areas with high rent and utilities.
- Eliminating time limits on benefits for all Americans.
- Expand benefits for territories, ending discrimination against those who live and work in U.S. territories by creating a path to transition them to SNAP and treating them as if they were states.
If implemented, this legislation would:
- Increase the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 per month pre-pandemic to $27 per month for a single or two person household;
- Increase SNAP benefits by approximately $80 per month for a single-parent household with one child;
- Provide $150 more per month in SNAP benefits for the average family of four.
The Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2020 is endorsed by FRAC, Share Our Strength, Hunger Free America, Association of Public Health Nutritionists, Community Food Advocates, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Island Harvest, The Coalition for Food Security Puerto Rico, Long Island Cares, Inc.—The Harry Chapin Food Bank, Food Bank of the Southern Tier, Food Bank For New York City, Feeding America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Hunger Solutions New York, Feeding Westchester, Urban Outreach Center, Center for Science in the Public Interest, National Education Association, WhyHunger, Broome Tioga BOCES, American Heart Association, FeedMore WNY, Danone North America, Islamic Relief USA, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies (NJHSA), Save the Children, Bread for the World, National Women’s Law Center, Loaves & Fishes/Friendship Trays, Inc., Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, FoodCorps, End Hunger Durham, Atlanta Community Food Bank, Hunger Free New Jersey, Virginia Poverty Law Center, Virginia Hunger Solutions, End Hunger CT, RESULTS, Food Bank of Central New York, D.C. Hunger Solutions, The Food Trust, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, and the National Council on Aging.
The full text of the bill can be found here.
A one-pager on the bill can be found here.