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As the PBS NewsHour reported earlier, the federal government's weekly unemployment payments expired Monday for almost 9 million Americans. Yamiche Alcindor has a broader look at the administration's efforts to expand the nation's social safety net for those battling poverty and hunger in the midst of a pandemic.
As we reported earlier, federal unemployment payments expired today for almost nine million Americans.
White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor has a broader look at the administration's efforts to expand the nation's social safety net for those battling poverty and hunger in the midst of a pandemic.
In a year of insecurity and uncertainty, this Washington, D.C., farmers market has been an oasis for Anteese Matthews.
Anteese Matthews, Maryland Resident:
This is my purpose. It's my passion to bring fresh, healthy foods to our neighbors, to our children. It just lights my world up.
It's an all-day trip for Anteese and her daughters.
They travel more than an hour each way on a bus and two trains to get here from their home in Capitol Heights, Maryland. Her passion is made possible because this market accepts her benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, that's run by the federal government.
How important is it that you can use your SNAP benefits here? How much of a lifeline is that?
It's a huge lifeline for me, because I'm able to use them and get anything from meat to eggs, dairy.
When the pandemic struck last year, Americans across the country lined up at food banks. Child hunger spiked. In December, nearly one in five families didn't have enough to eat. Congress responded, passing a bipartisan emergency assistance package that included more money for SNAP.
The extra money that I do get goes from extremely far compared to what I might have been able to do before.
She gets an extra $400 a month. That softened the blow when she couldn't find work for parts of last year. This summer, as vaccinations paved the way for city reopenings, Anteese landed a full-time job at a grocery store. But at $15 an hour, it's still just making ends meet.
Although I'm working, I still need the help because rent is high. Taking care of children is expensive.
This month, the emergency aid ends. But permanent increases follow.
Starting October 1, SNAP will use a new updated formula to determine people's benefits, one that reflects the rising cost of healthy groceries. The change means families not only avoid a cut in aid as the pandemic recedes, but in many cases will see additional monthly help to stay afloat.
It's the largest single increase in SNAP's history, a part of President Joe Biden's pledge to end child hunger.
Joe Biden, President of the United States: Good afternoon, folks. We cannot, will not let people go hungry.
Diane Schanzenbach, an economist at Northwestern University who studies child poverty, says the update is critical and overdue.
Diane Schanzenbach, Northwestern University:
When families have more money to spend on food, they tend to buy healthier foods. They buy a greater variety of food.
But not everyone agrees.
Angela Rachidi, American Enterprise Institute:
So, I think the idea that people are going to give up on a high-sugared foods, processed foods, which, in themselves, are not that cheap, for healthy foods, I think it's just completely unrealistic.
Angela Rachidi is a senior fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute. She argues that an increase in SNAP should come with an increase in accountability.
Obesity and poor health that is driven by poor diet is an issue that's not unique to SNAP.
But the largest federally funded food assistance program in the country should not be contributing to the problem.
Anteese says trying to police how SNAP benefits are used hurts people like her, who are just trying to survive.
We're stimulating the economy. You know, we're going to put that money right back into the economy where you all say you all want it to go.
On social media, she's gained thousands of followers and a community who, like her, use SNAP to not only buy fresh food, but to grow it at home.
She showed us her backyard garden, a collection of peppers, herbs, and tomatoes, seeds purchased with her benefits.
Thyme, lavender, sage, trusting myself just to go bigger and purchase seeds on my own and to be able to do what I see — L. do what you see here.
Six weeks ago, Anteese got another welcome boost from the federal government, the first child tax credit hit her bank account, lightening her load a bit more.
What did you use the child tax credit for, and why is it important to you?
It means so much to me because I was able to purchase my daughter's school supplies and going to be able to just open up doors for myself and my children.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT):
The bill as amended is passed.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
That money, $550 a month, comes from the American Rescue Plan passed in March along party lines. That gave most parents monthly payments for each child, $250 a month for kids over 6 and $300 a month if they're under 6.
President Biden has said it may be his proudest achievement.
Your head, your heart, and your budget all lead to the same place. This is the right thing to do, and it's the smart thing to do.
A new census report found that just one installment of the child tax credit on July 15 slashed hunger rates in homes with children by roughly 25 percent, down to the lowest figure since the start of the pandemic.
It's a promising start for the program, which predictions say could cut child poverty in half.
We're showing it's possible to get big, important things done.
And it's a critical piece of President Biden's pledge to combat poverty, to put in place the largest expansion of the social safety net in more than fifty years.
It's going to mean a lot of children who grow up less likely to experience hunger, better able to pay attention in school, and so that they grow up to be healthier, more academically successful, sort of better attached to the labor market in the long run.
Critics like Rachidi say programs like this that don't require work do more harm than good, especially for the most vulnerable families.
The opportunity for those families is to get connected to the labor market and to earn their own living. And we need policies that support that, not undermine it.
It's a debate now playing out on Capitol Hill, as Democrats work to pass a $3.5 trillion budget that would keep the child tax credit in place beyond December.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT):
We should not have millions of our children living in poverty.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY):
They want to make — to take working families' child tax credit and turn it into a permanent welfare program.
As Congress debates the scope of post-pandemic benefits, Anteese extended an invitation.
Come see and live in a community like mine and understand why these benefits are much more powerful and vital to us than the argument that people are trying to have.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.
Watch the Full Episode
Yamiche Alcindor is the White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; the moderator of Washington Week, the weekly public affairs show on PBS; and a political contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. She often tells stories about the intersection of race and politics as well as fatal police encounters. She is currently covering the administration of President Joe Biden and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tess Conciatori is a politics production assistant at PBS NewsHour.
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