Hunger Free Vermont and Vermont Foodbank Celebrate Support for People Facing Hunger in Latest COVID-19 Relief Bill 

After many starts and stops, Congress has passed a COVID-19 relief bill before wrapping up for the year. Anti-hunger advocates across the country, including Hunger Free Vermont and the Vermont Foodbank, are celebrating this bill’s inclusion of critical funding support for programs serving people facing hunger.  

Hunger in Vermont has reached unprecedented levels during the pandemic, with 1 in 3 people in Vermont facing hunger since the start of the pandemic. As funding from the previous federal COVID-19 relief packages was set to expire at the end of the year, advocates have been expecting hunger to reach even higher levels in January and February. 

“Without the support that has been keeping families and food budgets afloat, there was a great risk that the hunger crisis we are battling would reach new heights in the new year,” says Vermont Foodbank CEO, John Sayles. “With an unprecedented number of people facing hunger and more people turning to charitable food for support than we’ve seen in the history of our organization, this bill will make a much needed difference.” 

The COVID-19 relief package includes additional funding and expands access to many nutrition programs. Most notably, the program provides a 15% increase in 3SquaresVT benefits through the end of June. 3SquaresVT, called SNAP nationwide, is the nation’s largest nutrition assistance program that helps eligible individuals and families buy food at grocery stores and farmers markets across the state. Hunger Free Vermont and the Vermont Foodbank have been advocating for this increase along with other anti-hunger organizations and many members of Congress – including Vermont’s Congressional Delegation – since the start of the pandemic.  

3SquaresVT allows people in Vermont to buy food in a dignified and private manner – giving them the flexibility to shop at stores and farmers markets convenient to them. Increasing benefits means that more people can afford nutritious food that is right for their families, and helps more people afford food from our local farmers,” says Anore Horton, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont. “Congress temporarily increased 3SquaresVT benefits by an average of 15% during the Great Recession, and so it is fitting for them to do so again now during our current health and economic crisis.” 

The bill will also allow more college students and those who are unemployed to receive 3SquaresVT benefits – two groups of people who have been hard hit by the pandemic. And, it provides funding and rule changes that expand new programs that have been critical during the pandemic. The bill will allow the USDA to continue expanding the new online purchasing program for 3SquaresVT and will also expand access to P-EBT, which earlier this year provided many Vermont families with children with grocery cards to help cover the cost of food when school was closed. Other crucial programs including child nutrition programs, Meals on Wheels, and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) — one of the largest sources of food for food banks —  will also receive increased funding. 

“We are grateful for the bill’s inclusion of $400 million for TEFAP. This funding is absolutely necessary as food banks across the country prepare for a scheduled 50 percent reduction in food received from the government while at the same time, we face a significant increase in demand,” says Sayles. “But even with this support, Feeding America anticipates a gap of 8 billion meals nationally between food bank supply and demand. 

This latest COVID-19 relief package goes a long way in helping the thousands of people in Vermont who are facing hunger right now, and is a strong step in the right direction to ensure that everyone is able to meet their basic needs during this trying time.  

“We celebrate this victory with an eye to the future,” says Sayles. “Because these devastating levels of food insecurity are not going away any time soon, further action will be critical to ensuring all are fed. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress and the USDA to bring about the policy changes needed to keep food on tables in the short and long term.” 

It took twelve years for hunger in VT to return to pre-recession levels following the Great Recession. Hunger and economic insecurity linger, which is why Congress needs to continue to work toward legislation that will tie nutrition supports to economic recovery and not to the pandemic or an arbitrary deadline. 

Vermont’s Members of Congress have been leading voices in D.C. for increasing 3SquaresVT benefits and funding programs that help people put food on the table during the pandemic. “Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders, and Representative Welch have all been resolute in calling for a relief package that makes sure those struggling to meet basic needs are able to access food. We are so grateful for their effort and commitment to the people across Vermont and across our country who have been impacted by the pandemic,” says Horton. 

“Far too many families struggle with food insecurity and hunger, and that crisis has only intensified in this pandemic. The relief package will deliver immediate food assistance to those who need it most, including seniors and children. Vermonters have stepped up and looked out for one another through this crisis – that is the Vermont way. The tireless work of Hunger Free Vermont, the Vermont Foodbank, and communities across our state is a model for the nation,” stated Senator Leahy.  

“More families are struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table than ever before. Over the last few weeks, I worked very hard to provide direct payments to working families. While we did not get as much as we wanted in the final stimulus package, most Vermonters will receive $600 per adult, and an additional $600 per child, meaning the average family of four will get $2,400.  While this does not even come close to making up for the financial hardship so many people are facing, I hope it will provide some relief and assistance. I am pleased the package also provides much needed food assistance to families, children, and seniors. Given the enormous economic desperation that people across this country are now experiencing, it is clear that this legislation is not enough. Know that when the Senate comes back in session, I will continue to fight for sustained direct payments, expanded nutrition assistance, and other vital support Vermonters desperately need to get through this horrific crisis,” stated Senator Sanders.   

“The compromise bill passed in the House yesterday is not perfect, but is critical and long overdue. In particular, the 15% increase to SNAP funding is a critical lifeline for Vermonters struggling to survive this cold pandemic winter. Increasing SNAP funds is the most effective way to feed hungry families. The bill also includes additional unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs, direct payments and other measures to help Vermonters struggling because of this terrible pandemic,” stated Representative Welch. 

If signed into law, the Coronavirus relief package will go into effect on January 1, 2021. If you or someone you know could use some help putting food on the table, you can learn more about programs like 3SquaresVT, school meals, Meals on Wheels at www.vermontfoodhelp.com. Or learn how to find food through the Vermont Foodbank and its network at vermontdev2.wpengine.com/gethelp

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Vermont Foodbank is the state’s largest hunger-relief organization, providing nutritious food through a network of more than 300 community partners – food shelves, meal sites, schools, hospitals, and housing sites. Food insecurity has increased dramatically as a result of the pandemic, economic disruptions, and recent flooding. The Vermont Foodbank and its network have been on the front lines, working to ensure that everyone has the food they need to maintain their health. Last year, the Vermont Foodbank provided over 12 million pounds of food to people throughout Vermont. The Vermont Foodbank, a member of Feeding America, is nationally recognized as one of the most effective and efficient nonprofits and food banks in the nation.