Democratic lawmakers seeking additional food assistance funds from Congress.
(Shutterstock image)

With unemployment on the rise due to COVID-19, lawmakers argue people need more help meeting basic needs

Four Democratic Wisconsin lawmakers are calling on leaders of both political parties to boost funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as part of the next coronavirus relief bill being considered by Congress. 

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore, Ron Kind and Mark Pocan on Wednesday called on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to ensure increased benefits for people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and expanded eligibility for people receiving funding, which goes toward food purchases for people meeting low-income guidelines.

Baldwin, Moore, Kind and Pocan said SNAP priorities in Wisconsin that should be addressed include increasing benefits and expanding eligibility for low-income college students, unemployed workers and low-income military families.

They also are seeking to boost overall SNAP benefits by 15 percent to help families obtain more food while also stimulating the economy, according to a letter signed jointly by the four lawmakers. 

In addition, they are seeking to raise the minimum SNAP allowance for senior citizens from $16 to $30 and are asking for the delay of three U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations adopted in 2019 they say would force more than 100,000 current SNAP recipients out of the program and would reduce benefits for others. 

“In these challenging times, more and more families in Wisconsin and across the country are struggling to put food on their tables,” the four Democrats said in a joint statement. 

The number of people in need of food assistance has risen significantly, they said. More than 30 million have filed for unemployment in the U.S. during the past six weeks, and the unemployment rate in Wisconsin has shot up from 3.5 percent to 27 percent with the shutdown of businesses because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Advocates for people struggling to afford food said more dollars and program flexibility are needed to provide more them with the food they need. 

“FoodShare is a crucial lifeline that we need to make available to the Wisconsinites that need it,” said Jim Jones, director of the Division of Medicaid Services at the state Department of Health Services.