Gillibrand Proposes Extension Pandemic EBT Benefits

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, talks with state Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-150, ahead of a press conference Friday morning in which she introduced a proposal to extend Pandemic EBT benefits. P-J photo by Cameron Hurst

FALCONER — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, cited a need for children across the country not to go hungry amid the COVID-19 pandemic during a visit to the FeedMore WNY Distribution Center on Friday morning, announcing her intention to extend Pandemic EBT and expand Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in the country’s upper chamber.

Her comments and subsequent visit come as Congress continues to battle over a new COVID-19 relief package and unemployment benefits after the initial bill expired on July 31. It also comes amid decisions by local school districts to reopen schools after receiving the green light from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that students can return to school upon having their plan approved by the state department of health.

“There’s no question that families here in New York and across the country are truly struggling,” Gillibrand said. “Millions of people are out of work and costs are continuing to rise. Now the clock has run out on enhanced unemployment benefits and food assistance benefits and families have even fewer ways to make ends meet.”

She added, “Millions of families are unable to put food on the table. More than 29 million Americans didn’t get enough to eat last week. One-in-five parents don’t have enough food to feed their children including one million parents in New York. Food banks and networks like FeedMore WNY have been going above and beyond to help families keep food on the table, but they can’t do it alone. That’s why it’s critical that the next relief package prioritizes extending SNAP benefits and the Pandemic EBT benefits.”

“Since March, we have seen a 13% increase in the number of children we serve,” FeedMore WNY Communications Director Catherine Shick said. “In addition we’ve distributed over 51,000 bags of food through our backpack program to our community’s children do not go hungry. … The Pandemic EBT program for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act provided nutrition resources for families who lost access to free meals and reduced-price school meals due to school closures. We’ve heard from many families that this assistance was greatly appreciated and needed. These families with vulnerable children are in need of continued support as we face the prolonged months of food insecurity and financial hardship as a result of COVID-19.”

“The House relief bill, the HEROS Act, would temporarily raise SNAP benefits by 15%,” Gillibrand added. “That expansion must be included in the Senate’s package as well so that families can buy the groceries they need. As the school year approaches, we’ll also need to address how to cover more meals for the 22 million children who would typically be fed at school through a free or reduced-cost lunch.”

Gillibrand also noted that while local school districts — specifically the Jamestown Public Schools — were able to provide students with grab-and-go meals each day during the pandemic portion of the school year, other students have not been that fortunate and that nationwide, 40 percent of students haven’t had meal access since the beginning of the pandemic in March.

“No one wants to see children go hungry,” she said. “Addressing food insecurity is not a partisan issue. I hope to work with my colleagues across the aisle to get families and children basic resources they need to survive.”

The bill, entitled the Ensuring Nutrition for American Students Act, not only extend Pandemic EBT benefits, but also provides nutritional resources to families who have lost access to their free or reduced lunch school closures caused by the pandemic.

“We not only need to ensure those benefits are part of this package, but we have to make sure they address the current needs,” she said. “The existing systems provide benefits for schools that close for five consecutive days or more. That should stay in place. Additionally, states should also be able to provide EBT benefits to replace school meals while students are distance learning or learning from home.”

“This bill is going to help our students and help our residents,” County Executive PJ Wendel said. “I’ve talked to our Public Health director Christine Schuyler and although our numbers remain somewhat low with our SNAP benefits, the concern that we have is now with the decreased unemployment and benefits that number is going to go up and skyrocket. These children need those meals.

Gillibrand noted that the legislation makes the bill that has already passed in the House of Representatives more robust and that she is working on adding Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, as a co-sponsor with the hope that it will be bi-partisan by the time the Senate votes on the next relief package, which continues to be “heavily” negotiated.

“The biggest issue where there seems to be disagreement is money for cities and states,” she said. “That is the most important thing we can get into our state right now because without more money for cities, states and counties, anything that is not mandatory spending will be cut. That includes money for homeless shelters, that includes money for food banks, that includes money for domestic violence shelters, substance abuse programs. … Anything that really gets into the deepest needs for our community are the first things that will be cut. It will also result in cuts to first responders, firefighters, emergency workers, health care workers. This money is urgent. If we can get some agreement on state and local, I think we can find common ground on food assistance on rental assistance and on small business assistance.”

While in the area, Gillibrand was also asked about New York Attorney General Leticia James’ announcement Thursday that the state would be suing to dissolve the National Rifle Association, voicing support for the legal action as something “all New Yorkers should care about” and calling the association an “advocacy organization that advocates for more guns at all costs.”

“I find that deeply problematic because there are common-sense gun reform that we can all agree on,” she said. “It’s not difficult to ban military-style weapons and large magazines because they are designed to kill large numbers of people very quickly. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for universal background checks to make sure criminals and dangerous people don’t get weapons, I don’t think it’s problematic to say that terrorists shouldn’t be allowed to purchase weapons. Those are the basics, those are the common ground and those are the things that the NRA has been unwilling to even support.”


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