Today, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Peter Welch (D-VT) and Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-NY-07) held a press conference to announce the introduction of the Closing the Meal Gap Act, which would expand and strengthen Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for over 40 million vulnerable Americans, nearly half of whom are children. Other major groups of recipients include older adults, people with disabilities, and veterans. During the press conference, the lawmakers also addressed Republican efforts to slash SNAP benefits in the debt ceiling fight. Gillibrand, Welch, and Velázquez were joined by Hunger Free America CEO Joel Berg,Hunger Free America & Foodlink WIC Outreach Specialist Whitley Hasty, Blue Star Families CEOKathy Roth-Douquet, MAZON VP of Public PolicyJosh Protas, and Alphapointe Public Policy Director Scott Thornhill.
Senator Gillibrand leads this legislation with Representative Alma Adams (D-NC-12).
“We live in the richest nation in the world, and more than 40 million Americans still depend on food assistance. I am proud to lead my Democratic colleagues in introducing the Closing the Meal Gap Act, a bill that enhances SNAP benefits and puts food on the table for those who need it most,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Despite this, Republicans in Congress are willing to slash federal spending for this life-saving program and play politics with people’s lives. No one in the United States should go hungry, and I will never turn my back on the more than 40 million Americans, including 15 million children, who depend on SNAP.”
“More than 70,000 Vermont families rely on SNAP benefits to put food on the table – but even with that support, far too many people are still struggling to make ends meet,” said Senator Welch. “The Closing the Meal Gap Act will cut through red tape that stops families from getting the help they need. I am proud to join Sen. Gillibrand, Rep. Adams, and others to support this important legislation and help Vermonters thrive.”
“Access to food is a basic human right, and we should be making it easier, not harder, for people to put food on the table. That’s exactly what this bill does, and I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation to expand access to SNAP benefits.” – Senator Fetterman
“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, a senior member of the House Committee on Agriculture. “The Closing the Meal Gap Act will address this issue by strengthening the SNAP program for millions of people, including 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 her partnership to take a historic step towards ending hunger in the United States.”
“I was proud to work with Senator Gillibrand and the rest of my colleagues to include provisions to expand SNAP to the people of Puerto Rico. Currently, Puerto Rico relies on the Nutrition Assistance Program, a capped block grant that does not fluctuate to meet the needs of Puerto Ricans in the wake of disasters like Hurricane María or the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Congresswoman Velázquez. “This bill would facilitate a speedy and long overdue transition to SNAP for Puerto Rico and help ensure the Island has the tools it needs to combat food insecurity.”
“Ending hunger is central to every religious and ethical tradition on the planet. Ending hunger would also boost the nation economically, because well-nourished children learn better, well-fed adults work more productively, and seniors who eat regularly are more likely to stay independent. Recent conservative proposals to slash food aid for people in poverty in order to maintain vast giveaways to the wealthiest are morally wrong, economically counterproductive, and politically tone-deaf.” – Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America
“It is unconscionable that any military families face food insecurity, much less that more than one-quarter of our enlisted families have encountered it in the past year,” said Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of Blue Star Families. “That our government disqualifies them – disqualifies them! – from SNAP based on their housing allowance, which in and of itself is insufficient to pay for the housing they need, is way off base! Military Families move on government orders in order to serve you and me – this is no way to treat them. We must make military families SNAP eligible – and not expect them to choose between food and shelter.”
“It is essential that the next Farm Bill protects against hunger by strengthening SNAP and other critical federal nutrition programs,” said Josh Protas, Vice President of Public Policy for MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “We know from the history of hunger in this country that when we protect and strengthen federal nutrition programs, a life of abundance for everyone is possible. We know that adding harsher work requirements and time limits to SNAP will only worsen hunger across the country. We know that certain populations including veterans and military families face unique barriers to accessing food benefits. Our leaders in Congress and in the states must prioritize policies that center dignity and respect for all those facing food insecurity.”
“Currently about 70% of people who are blind are not working, and research tells us the number of people with vision difficulties is expected to rise dramatically in the coming years due to chronic diseases and other factors,” said Scott Thornhill, Director of Public Policy for Alphapointe. “A large percentage of households utilizing SNAP include one or more individuals with a disability. Supplemental supports have been necessary to give some amount of food security along with other basic needs. There must continue to be a safety net of sorts, to support those who are capable and want to enter, or reenter the job market, and they shouldn’t be punished for pursuing their potential by losing these essential benefits either through overly restrictive qualifiers or reduced investment.”
“A growing number of Americans are facing hunger and food insecurity every day, especially across our Latino communities. This bill takes a crucial step forward in addressing this urgent issue by increasing SNAP benefits, providing much-needed relief to those who are struggling to put food on the table, and ending the unjust exclusion of Puerto Rico from SNAP. We commend Senator Gillibrand for her leadership and commitment to ensuring access to the basic necessity of food, and we urge Congress to pass this legislation without delay,” said Frankie Miranda, President and CEO, Hispanic Federation.
“Closing the Meal Gap Act is a critical piece of nutrition legislation that responds to the current inadequacies of SNAP in fully addressing hunger and food insecurity across the US and remedies the historic inequities of Puerto Rico’s nutrition assistance program by finally calling for Puerto Rico’s transition into SNAP.” -Lillian Rodriguez Lopez, Coalition for Food Security PR
“The Center for Science in the Public Interest is proud to be one of the many public health organizations supporting the Closing the Meal Gap Act. SNAP is a powerful food safety net program with many public health benefits, yet too many people in this country are still unable to afford enough nutritious food to feed their families. Those that qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program find that the benefits are inadequate to meet their food needs, and arcane eligibility criteria prevent many who are food insecure from even qualifying for the program. This bill will significantly expand the program’s reach and impact, alleviating food and nutrition insecurity for millions of families.” -Center for Science in the Public Interest
“FRAC applauds Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. Adams for their leadership on the Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2023, which would help strengthen SNAP benefit adequacy and improve equitable access. Too many individuals are facing a hunger cliff and are forced to choose between paying for food and housing or paying for food and medicine. SNAP benefits average a mere $6 a person per day. It is clear that SNAP needs a raise. We call on Members of Congress to cosponsor and pass the Closing the Meal Gap Act.” -Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center
“We are grateful to have a champion like Senator Gillibrand in our corner fighting to protect SNAP. In recent months, food pantries in New York’s Capital Region have seen a 34% increase in service levels, impacting the seniors and children in our community the hardest. These benefits must absolutely remain in place in order to ensure our community is able to access nutritious food and people do not have to make the decision between feeding their family and paying for other necessities like rent, transportation, and medications.” -Natasha Pernicka, Executive Director of the Food Pantries for the Capital District & Co-Founder of the Alliance for a Hunger Free NY
“The Farm Bill is the cornerstone of our country’s commitment to protecting people in America from hunger, with individuals needing help now more than ever in our history. As New York City’s largest anti-hunger organization, we know SNAP and TEFAP are a lifeline for people facing hunger and must be fortified as food pantries and soup kitchens face a surge in need. These programs are also an important and reliable support to the retail and agricultural economies.” said Leslie Gordon, President & CEO of Food Bank For New York City. “We stand with Senator Gillibrand who has been a tireless leader in fighting for New Yorkers – and low-income people across our country – who depend on nutrition assistance to keep food on the table.”
SNAP benefits are based on the restrictive Thrifty Food Plan, which inadequately calculates benefits for today’s low-wage workers and their families. SNAP benefits provide a mere $2.03 per meal, and, according to the 2021 USDA Household Food Security report, the typical U.S. household spent 15% more on food than the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan. Because of this inadequacy, roughly 40%of all households participating in SNAP are still food insecure. The Closing the Meal Gap Act would help to address these issues by raising the baseline benefit for all SNAP households and allocating more funds to those with large medical and housing expenses.
Specifically, this bill would:
- Increase the baseline for SNAP benefits by incorporating the Low-Cost Food Plan into the SNAP formula, which would more accurately estimate how much working people spend on food.
- Eliminate eligibility limits & unrealistic barriers by:
- Authorizing the standard medical deduction in every state permanently 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 to account for the cost of living for SNAP recipients in areas with high rent and utilities.
- Eliminating time limits on benefits for Americans struggling to find work.
- Expand benefits for and end discrimination against those who live and work in Puerto Rico by offering SNAP benefits as offered in the continental U.S.
This legislation is cosponsored by Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and John Fetterman (D-PA).
The Closing the Meal Gap Act is endorsed by Hunger Free America, Save the Children, American Heart Association, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Food Research & Action Center, Feeding America, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Coalition for Food Security Puerto Rico, National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs, City Harvest, Carter Burden Network, Hunger Solutions NY, Met Council on Jewish Poverty, New York Vision Rehabilitation Center, VNS Health, NY StateWide Senior Action Council, Lifespan of Greater Rochester, FRAC, Share Our Strength, Association of Public Health Nutritionists, Community Food Advocates, Island Harvest, Long Island Cares, Inc.—The Harry Chapin Food Bank, Food Bank of the Southern Tier, Food Bank For New York City, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Feeding Westchester, Urban Outreach Center, National Education Association, WhyHunger, Broome Tioga BOCES, FeedMore WNY, Danone North America, Islamic Relief USA, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies (NJHSA), 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.
USDA fact sheet on SNAP spending can be found here.