Stabenow helps secure added food benefits for low-income families in COVID package

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

The new coronavirus relief package that is expected to pass through both chambers of Congress Monday evening includes increased food assistance secured in part by Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing.

The fourth-term senator said she worked with Republican and Democratic colleagues in both chambers to raise Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits by 15% for six months, up from the four months proposed earlier this month.

"We worked to push for support for as many months as we could," Stabenow said. "This crisis isn't going to be over in four months. Hopefully things will be better in six months. But we know that food insecurity lags other parts of economic upturn — people are going to be food insecure for a long time."

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, with ranking member Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, Rep. Collin Peters, D-Minnesota, and Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas — the leading members of both parties serving on the agriculture-related committees in each chamber — worked with Stabenow to reach a consensus on the provisions through what she said were "very tough negotiations." 

They also agreed to include provisions in the package that would: 

  • Provide $400 million for food banks through the Emergency Food Assistance Program.
  • Allocate $175 million for nutrition services for seniors, such as Meals on Wheels.
  • Provide $13 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which helps feed low-income senior citizens.
  • Not count unemployment benefits as income for calculating SNAP eligibility and benefits.
  • Provide additional emergency funds for food programs through schools and daycares.
  • Allocate $5 billion for payments to row crop producers and $225 million for producers of specialty crops if they lost their crop in 2019.
  • Provide $3 billion for cattle, livestock, poultry and dairy farmers and farmers who had to euthanize livestock or poultry due to the pandemic.
  • Expand the EBT program to help families with children under 6 years old become eligible for benefits.

"These are really important efforts to help people be able to have food," Stabenow said. "We know that 50 million people plus in the United States are struggling to feed their families. That's one out of four households that have had food insecurity in the last year. And the numbers keep going up in Michigan."

Stabenow didn't feel the bill was perfect — she said she would have rather seen more money go to fruit and vegetable farmers in Michigan than cotton farmers in Texas, who she says haven't been as significantly impacted by the pandemic. "But overall, it's a good package" that covers the most important areas of need, she said.

It’s part of a $900 billion, 11th-hour pandemic relief package that will deliver help to a nation that is struggling through another wave of coronavirus cases 10 months into the crisis.

In addition to the food assistance, it will provide a temporary additional $300 per week unemployment benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment for Americans who make less than $75,000 per year. Schools, health care providers, theaters and live entertainment venues, renters, small businesses and more will also get additional assistance. 

It comes nearly at the same time as state lawmakers passed a local COVID-relief package that includes $220 million in extended unemployment benefits through March, $55 million in small business grants, $57 million for vaccines and $22.5 million in COVID testing for vulnerable communities.

Both packages are the result of long-term negotiations in divided governments as the nation and the state have continued to weather a pandemic with what's left of economic relief approved in the first months of the virus. 

To date, more than 463,000 people in Michigan have been sickened by the coronavirus since March and more than 11,500 people have died.

Twitter: @rbeggin