A bipartisan group of lawmakers is working to increase federal aid for emergency food distribution in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries (FEED) Act will allow local and state governments to partner with restaurants on initiatives that feed people in need. It also calls on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to cover 100 percent of the cost.
Though FEMA assistance typically covers up to 75 percent of emergency and disaster expenses, the FEED Act will waive regulations on this limit.
“If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s the need to innovate,” says Representative Rodney Davis, a co-author on the FEED Act, in a statement. “This bill helps utilize our restaurant industry…in a way that’s never been done before.”
Tens of thousands of restaurants closed at the start of the pandemic are still recovering. Some will never reopen. The new bill promises to revitalize the industry with funding to rehire staff and expand food distribution infrastructure for vulnerable populations.
“Too many families are going hungry during this pandemic, and it’s not because America is running low on food,” says Representative Jim McGovern, another co-author, in a statement.
As COVID-19 surges across the nation, food insecurity is increasing. Vulnerable populations including the elderly, young children, and communities of color are among the hardest hit, according to multiple reports by the Brookings Institute, Bloomberg and others.
Household food insecurity for mothers with young children surpassed 40 percent in April 2020, a jump from 15.1 percent in April 2018, according to the Brookings Institute.
Congress has already taken a number of steps to address food insecurity during the pandemic. A temporary suspension of certain program requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allows more people to qualify for federal assistance.
In addition, the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program helps families that qualify for reduced school meals to continue feeding their children while schools are closed. But administrative hurdles currently prevent all those eligible from accessing the benefits.
To minimize these barriers, the FEED Act aims to set a new precedent for emergency response by easing restrictions on government aid, says Representative Mike Thompson of California.
Last year, the Congress member worked with Chef José Andrés of World Central Kitchen to feed hundreds of residents displaced by wildfires in his district. The two joined forces again this year to introduce the new bill with other political leaders.
While the FEED Act won over the House in May as part of the HEROES Act, it still awaits Senate approval. Thompson, who is optimistic about the Bill’s prospects, considers it an opportunity for national unity in the face of unprecedented challenges.
Thompson tells Food Tank, “All of the things [the FEED Act] addresses: the need for healthy food, for small businesses to keep their doors open, for employees to have a paycheck, and for those paychecks to be spent in the local community, these are things that we can all agree on.”
Photo courtesy of Unsplash, Michael Browning