'Lowest of the low': McConnell and Trump ripped for blocking food assistance in COVID-19 package
Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell (Screen Capture)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump are under fire after blocking a proposed increase in funding for federal nutrition assistance at a time when millions of people across the U.S. are relying on food banks to survive the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump ought to be ashamed," Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said in a statement Wednesday after the Senate passed a $480 billion "interim" coronavirus relief bill that did not include the modest increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding that Democrats requested. The interim package is expected to pass the House on Thursday.

McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin informed Republican senators in a conference call Sunday that the additional SNAP funding would not be included in the final legislation.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that SNAP enrollment has jumped by 40% since last month as millions report being out of work. As Common Dreams reported Thursday, more than 26 million people have filed jobless claims since mid-March.

"A record number of Americans have filed for unemployment," said McGovern. "Food pantry lines in some states stretch miles down the road. We are experiencing a crisis of food insecurity not seen in the United States in decades."

McConnell and Trump "don't have to worry about where their next meal is coming from," said McGovern, "but they don't think other families should be afforded the same right."

In negotiations over the interim bill, congressional Democrats pushed for a 15% increase in the maximum SNAP benefit, which would have amounted to an additional $25 monthly per person, or $100 monthly for a family of four.

Overall, the increase likely would have cost around $5 billion for the rest of 2020—a small fraction of the $500 billion in funding for small businesses, hospitals, and Covid-19 testing that the Senate approved Tuesday.

"Denying people SNAP benefits while unemployment and food insecurity are on the rise is cruel," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, tweeted Thursday.

The Trump administration announced earlier this month that it would delay implementation of punitive work requirements for SNAP recipients—a decision that came only after the rule change was blocked by a federal judge. The rule would have kicked more than a million people off federal nutritional assistance.

The CARES Act, which Trump signed into law on March 27, included $15.8 billion in funding for SNAP. But as Dottie Rosenbaum of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote in a blog post last month, "rather than expand eligibility or increase benefits, that appropriation is a technical fix to ensure that the government can pay for existing benefits."

Rosenbaum expressed support for a 15% increase in the maximum SNAP benefit as well as an expansion of eligibility "to address the effects of Covid-19 until the economy shows solid signs of recovering from the downturn."

"SNAP is one of the most effective mechanisms both to help low-income families afford food and to provide counter-cyclical help in a recession, thereby boosting the economy," wrote Rosenbaum. "We must protect families' ability to afford nutritious food in an unprecedented public health emergency and time of economic shock."