The number of children seeking food at the Kids Korner, a food pantry in Bend, has nearly doubled this year compared to the same period last year, The Bend Bulletin recently reported. Triggered by the coronavirus crisis, the sharp rise in food insecurity in Central Oregon mirrors the struggles of families all across the nation — a situation that demands renewed, robust congressional action.
A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) explains that a “large and growing number of households are struggling to afford food and that millions of households are behind on rent, raising the specter that evictions could begin to spike as various federal, state, and local moratoriums are lifted.”
The extent of the suffering is staggering. Reviewing different data sources, the CBPP finds that:
- Food insecurity. In early July, about 11 percent of adults nationally and about 10 percent of adults in Oregon reported that their households sometimes or often lacked enough to eat in the last seven days. Nationally, the rate was nearly double for Black and Latino households.
- Housing insecurity. Nationally, an estimated 13.1 million adults living in rental housing were behind on rent for the week ending July 7. This amounts to about 19 percent of all adults in rental housing nationwide. In Oregon, the rate was 13 percent. Again, the national figures showed that Black and Latino renters faced greater levels of housing insecurity.
Without a doubt, the level of hardship would be far worse but for the relief measures passed by Congress in March. These measures included expanded unemployment benefits, direct stimulus payments to families, and increased nutrition benefits. Unfortunately, many of these provisions excluded categories of workers and families, such as workers without legal status — causing untold suffering among many. As the CBPP explains, “these measures have made an important difference in helping lower-income families pay their bills,” even as many households endure difficult times.
And the situation could soon get worse if Congress fails to pass new stimulus measures. A key provision in a prior federal package, enhanced unemployment insurance benefits, is scheduled to expire at the end of July. These folks are unlikely to find work, as a renewed surge of coronavirus cases keeps the economy on ice.
Unfortunately, the negotiations in Congress are starting off on the wrong foot. The Senate Republican plan unveiled yesterday
- fails to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to help prevent families from going hungry;
- provides no funding for homelessness services or additional rental vouchers;
- slashes the enhanced unemployment benefits that have done so much to keep the economy afloat ; and
- fails to include any new funds for state and local governments, increasing the risk of painful budget cuts at the state and local level.
This proposal from the GOP falls well-short of what Oregon families need, and threatens to make the recession longer and more painful.
For the good of the nation, Congress should extend the relief measures that are working but are scheduled to expire, extend relief to vulnerable families excluded from the prior stimulus package, provide additional support for the hardest-hit families, and provide robust aid to state and local governments. The present emergency demands no less.