On August 1, thirty million Americans lost their $600 a week supplemental employment insurance, after the Republican-led Senate let the CARES act benefit expire without passing legislation to replace it.
The US House passed the HEROES Act:(Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Securities Act) back on May 12, 2020.
Among other things, the bill
- provides FY2020 emergency supplemental appropriations to federal agencies;
- provides payments and other assistance to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments;
- provides additional direct payments of up to $1,200 per individual;
- expands paid sick days, family and medical leave, unemployment compensation, nutrition and food assistance programs, housing assistance, and payments to farmers;
- modifies and expands the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides loans and grants to small businesses and nonprofit organizations;
- establishes a fund to award grants for employers to provide pandemic premium pay for essential workers;
- expands several tax credits and deductions;
- provides funding and establishes requirements for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing;
- eliminates cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatments;
- extends and expands the moratorium on certain evictions and foreclosures;
- and requires employers to develop and implement infectious disease exposure control plans.
The bill also modifies or expands a wide range of other programs and policies, including those regarding
- Medicare and Medicaid,
- health insurance,
- broadband service,
- medical product supplies,
- student loans and financial aid,
- the federal workforce,
- veterans benefits,
- consumer protection requirements,
- the U.S. Postal Service,
- federal elections,
- aviation and railroad workers,
- and pension and retirement plans.
But as with many bills passed in the US House, no action has been taken in the GOP controlled Senate. Our current reps in DC, Rep. Angie Craig, Sen. Tina Smith and Sen Amy Klobachar all support getting help ASAP to folks in our district/state.
“This is devastating for millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet during this crisis,” posted Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith (DFL) on Facebook August 1. “We’ve got to come to an agreement for Americans. Now.”
While Congress may yet resolve this issue, and while federal supplemental unemployment insurance is a key protection for Americans facing hunger, it’s not the only lever that government can push.
Over the course of the spring, the Minnesota legislature allocated an extra $9 million for food shelf programs to help them purchase more items for clients and to support safe distribution of supplies, according to State. Sen. Greg Clausen, (DFL, Apple Valley.)
The legislature also approved additional funding for direct assistance to tribal nations and a $1.1 million grant to Second Harvest Heartland. The Legislative Advisory Commission also approved using $12 million of federal CARES Act funding to support food shelves across Minnesota.
Additionally, Clausen noted, the state Department of Human Services began allowing people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to order groceries online for delivery.
Clausen – who indicated that he supported all of the above measures – also noted the legislature is continuing to work with Governor Walz’s administration “to make sure that food access is a focal point” in distributing federal relief money.
Other, relatively obscure provisions continue to present roadblocks.
For example, a federal rule makes it difficult for many suburban school districts to provide summer meals to students, said Jason Viana, Executive Director of The Open Door Pantry in Eagan. The federal Summer Nutrition Program only supports children in school districts with high concentrations of poverty. Even if children live in impoverished neighborhoods, they can’t access the summer meal program if the district, overall, doesn’t meet the 50 percent Free/Reduced Price meal threshold.
Another example: “Mobile food shelf funding has died on the negotiating table the last two sessions,” Viana noted. Mobile food shelves “ability to improve food access for both urban and rural areas is unquestioned. That funding leads to a direct increase in food for seniors and families facing transportation barriers.”