The House early Saturday overwhelmingly approved a coronavirus outbreak relief package backed by President Donald Trump that would expand domestic feeding programs and suspend work and employment training requirements under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The bill, which passed 363-40 after the White House reached a deal with House Democrats Friday night, would — among other things — authorize an emergency increase in SNAP benefits during the crisis. Food banks also would get additional commodities.
Trump, who declared a national emergency earlier Friday, endorsed the agreement in a series of tweets ahead of the House vote: "This Bill will follow my direction for free CoronaVirus tests, and paid sick leave for our impacted American workers,"
The Senate is expected to take up the legislation next week after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., canceled a planned recess.
In addition to addressing food needs, the measure is intended to ensure employees nationwide have paid sick leave during the outbreak while also providing for free testing for the virus and bolstering unemployment insurance.
"The hour may be dark, but we can be the light forward," said Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. "People need a lifeline amidst this pandemic and when they are forced out of work. Let us show them that this community can help, and help them now.”
The bill allows states to request approval from the Agriculture Department to provide emergency benefits to existing SNAP households worth up to their maximum monthly allotment. A special SNAP program was also implemented during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 and 2010. This version would be known as "CR-SNAP," for "COVID-19 response."
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Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters on Thursday that he believed the nationwide suspension of SNAP work requirements was unnecessary since states can do that on their own during emergency situations by asserting that the outbreak is a “good cause” to suspend the rules.
Able-bodied adults without dependents under the age of 50 can normally be out of work no more than three months out of every three years and still qualify for SNAP benefits. States can seek waivers from that requirement for areas with high unemployment.
A rule taking effect in April would tighten restrictions on waiver approvals; however, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction on Friday against the rule and noted the waiver provision in the coronavirus outbreak relief bill.
Perdue had declined to postpone implementation of the rule, saying that the “good cause” waiver authority that states have made a delay unnecessary. But U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell said in her ruling that the new rule would restrict the ability of states to waive the work requirements.
The bill also would provide $500 million though the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC) to low-income pregnant women or mothers with young children who lose their jobs or are laid off due to the outbreak.
Another $400 million would be put into The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to assist food banks. Of that amount, $300 million would be for purchases of food, with the remaining $100 million to cover storage and distribution costs.
The bill also includes special provisions to provide meals to low-income children.
As schools close across the country for extended periods, one provision would authorize emergency Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) food benefits to households with kids who would are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. Another provision would permit child and adult care centers to provide food assistance off premises.
Conservative group Club of Growth urged defeat of the bill, saying it "funds a massive expansion of government and the welfare state." However, only 40 Republicans ultimately voted against the measure.
Lisa Davis, senior vice president of anti-hunger group Share Our Strength, said "community quarantine, income disruption and school closures create economic hardship for families, many of whom are already struggling to get by."
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