December 23, 2020

Congressman Neguse Calls For Change in Federal Guidance to Ensure More Colorado Kids Can Access Nutrition Assistance

Washington D.C.—Today, Congressman Joe Neguse and Congresswoman Kim Schrier, sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture David Perdue urging a change in federal guidance to ensure that 190,000 Colorado children and countless others throughout the country currently unable to receive nutritional assistance, would be able to. Specifically, the letter calls for a change in the “P-EBT Assistance for Children in Schools that are Closed or have Reduced Attendance” guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service’s (“USDA”) on November 16th, 2020, which stated that states could no longer address gaps in access to Pandemic EBT (“P-EBT”) from the Spring of 2020 by issuing previous allotments for the 2019-2020 school year to eligible beneficiaries. 

“This recent guidance from the Department of Agriculture runs counter to congressional intent and counter to the needs of Colorado kids and families,” said Congressman Joe Neguse. “As schools shut down at the start of the pandemic, lifting up new infrastructure to get nutritional assistance in the hands of students was challenging. It’s important that states be given maximum flexibility as they navigate these new circumstances. This detrimental guidance must be reversed so Colorado can support 190,000 students and distribute over $50 million in federal nutrition assistance that has not yet been accounted for.”

“We should be helping vulnerable children get the nutritious food they would otherwise receive in school during this healthcare crisis,” said Congresswoman Kim Schrier. “Pandemic-EBT does just that. Any guidance that would restrict at-risk children from this benefit goes against congressional intent, and that is why this modification is so important.”

“Pandemic EBT has been an incredible success, bringing nearly $50 million directly to Colorado families with kids to support learning, nutrition, and food security during this challenging time. However, due to the expedited process and tight program deadlines, many eligible children did not get benefits in the first round,” said Marc Jacobson, CEO of Hunger Free Colorado. “When 45% of Colorado households with children report worrying about affording food, it is crucial families have the opportunity to receive the nutrition assistance Congress intended for them.” 

In March 2020 the Families First Coronavirus Act created the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program to replace missed free and reduced-priced lunch during pandemic-related school closures. States had the option to submit plans for approval to USDA to administer this program. All fifty states, including Colorado, did so. The starkest difference between state plans was that 32 states and Washington D.C. used existing free and reduced-price lunch data to automatically send benefits to eligible students, while about 18 states, including Colorado, auto issued to a smaller population and required an application for remaining families. While lifting up this new program’s infrastructure was challenging in all states, those that auto issued to all free and reduced-price eligible families reached significantly more eligible students, while states that relied on an application, like Colorado, fell far short of that goal.   

In mid-November USDA issued new guidance disallowing states from providing benefits to households that should have received P-EBT for missed school days but did not apply in time. In Colorado, this is around 190,000 students and over $50 million in federal nutrition assistance

“This guidance limits needed relief for families, harming the health and wellbeing of our communities while also slowing economic recovery,” reads the letter from Neguse and Schrier. “P-EBT has provided a crucial influx of resources for families struggling during the pandemic. Most families that received P-EBT spent the funds almost immediately, keeping them flowing through local economies and generating additional economic activity while relieving pressures on household budgets, thus helping families afford healthy food, pay late bills, and stay housed. Programs like this are crucial to economic recovery, which is so desperately needed during this time of crisis in our nation. Keeping those funds in the federal coffers instead of ensuring they get to the struggling families who qualify for them only slows economic recovery and leaves more households struggling to make ends meet and feed their children as they navigate remote learning.”   

Read the letter here. 

Background

Since the onset of the pandemic, Congressman Neguse has worked with local, state and federal policymakers to ensure that families and children in Colorado have access to nutritional assistance opportunities and can put food on the table. This week, his proposal to increase weekly SNAP benefits by 15% was included in the COVID-19 relief package which passed the House and Senate. 

In April, Congressman Neguse introduced a package of bills to ensure flexibility for SNAP and WIC to ensure accessibility amidst the pandemic. His bill, the Food and Necessities During Public Emergencies Act of 2020, would allow for SNAP benefits to be used to purchase certain durable household goods, such as diapers and cleaning products, during COVID-19 and future national emergencies. The Food Assistance for Kids and Families During COVID-19 Act of 2020, led by Congressman Joe Neguse and Congresswoman Hayes would ensure SNAP and WIC benefits can utilize grocery store delivery services to ensure vulnerable beneficiaries can access their benefits while staying at home. 

 

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