$42 million in federal food aid per month at stake in emergency declaration debate

$42 million in federal food aid per month at stake in emergency declaration debate

The Covid-19 recession has driven hunger in Louisiana to unprecedented levels: More than 1 in 6 Louisiana adults and 1 in 5 adults with children reported that their households couldn’t afford enough food to eat each week during the pandemic, according to U.S. Census surveys. Now, hasty action by the state Legislature could make the problem even worse by jeopardizing more than $42 million in food assistance for Louisianans every month.

The Families First Act, approved by Congress in March, authorized SNAP Emergency Allotments (SNAP-EA) that bring all SNAP households to the maximum benefit amount for their household size. Louisiana households receiving the benefit get an average of $165 extra per month for groceries through the program.

But states can only claim these benefits when both state and national emergency declarations related to Covid-19 are in place. Legislators have proposed several measures that would curb the governor’s executive authority. These measures appear motivated by frustration over restrictions on bars and athletic events. But the emergency declaration also triggers the flow of some important federal funds to Louisiana. If the state Legislature suspends Gov. John Bel Edwards’s emergency declaration without quickly declaring a new emergency, Louisiana could lose access to this vital source of food aid.

How would bills under consideration affect Louisiana’s Emergency Declaration?
Would let the legislature terminate part of an Emergency Declaration HB3, HB15, HB23, HB57
Would require legislative approval to renew emergency declarations HB3, HB4, HB17, HB19, HB57, HB60, HB68
Would suspend the existing Covid-19 emergency declaration HCR9, HCR15, HCR16
Would require legislative review of an emergency declaration request SB29

 

The loss of SNAP Emergency Allotments would come at a terrible time for everyday Louisianans. The $300 weekly Lost Wage Assistance that helped supplement unemployment benefits expired last month, and talks on additional federal aid remain stalled on Capitol Hill. The result is that struggling Louisiana families will have inadequate assistance to meet their basic needs.

Since March, SNAP-EA has provided an average of $42.6 million a per month to help Louisiana households keep food on the table. Since every dollar in SNAP benefits generates $1.54 in economic activity, the loss of SNAP-EA would remove an estimated $65.7 million from Louisiana’s economy at a time when the state can ill afford any additional slowdowns.

More action from Congress is urgently needed to help regular Louisianans who are struggling to get by. Even when federal aid was at its most robust over the summer, more than 1 in 4 Louisianans was food insecure. And deep racial injustices that long pre-dated Covid exposed Black and Latinx Louisianans to the greatest need once the pandemic hit, as more than 1 in 3 Black and Latinx Louisianans struggled to afford a nutritionally adequate diet each week.

While the U.S. Senate dawdles on additional aid, our state legislators shouldn’t take away a key portion of the limited help currently available.

Despite a recent reduction in Covid cases, Louisiana continues to face both a public health and an economic emergency. Now is not the time to leave Louisiana without an emergency declaration, and to leave hungry Louisianans with less to eat.

-Danny Mintz