Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue declined to weigh in on calls by Democratic congressional leaders for a 15% increase in SNAP benefits.

“That’s a call that Congress needs to make,” Perdue said. “Our job in the administration is to implement the rules and the laws Congress passes.”

Democratic leaders wanted the 15% increase in return for supporting another $250 billion in the Paycheck Protection Program, which has so far been funded at $349 billion. The program provides forgivable loans for businesses, including farms.

The ag secretary did say that he feels that with states now able to give families maximum SNAP benefits, "families are being well fed." Under normal circumstances, a family of four with net income of $1,115 a month would receive $311 in monthly benefits. Their maximum benefit, however, would be $646. 

Asked about making purchases of surplus commodities, particularly fluid milk, Perdue and Brandon Lipps, administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service, pointed to "logistical challenges" presented because many food banks do not have cold storage.

“Last year we bought $50 million of fluid milk,” Perdue said, but it “took all year to distribute that.”

Lipps said USDA has provided more than 500 rules waivers  to states to ease delivery of food benefits.

He also said FNS has expanded a SNAP online purchasing pilot program to Arizona and California, which join Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Washington, and Nebraska in the pilot.

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He also pointed to state Disaster Household Distribution Programs, which have been approved for seven tribes and six states — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Louisiana, New York and Virginia. Using the DHDP programs, states "can distribute packages of USDA-purchased foods from existing inventories directly to households in need during a Presidentially-Declared Emergency or Disaster," an FNS spokesperson said. "Income and residency verification is not required for disaster household distributions, which are temporary in nature, and targeted to those areas with high need and food supply disruptions."   

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