In housing and hunger, a return to decency at last
In recent weeks, the Biden Administration has taken two major steps that will allow 25,000 mixed-status families to remain in public housing and will help millions of Americans struggling with food insecurity put food on the table. Both steps reverse cruel decisions by the Trump Administration that disproportionately threatened people with low incomes, people of color, immigrants, and children.
Last week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced it is withdrawing proposed regulations issued by the Trump Administration about households with one or more immigrant member either undocumented or otherwise ineligible for subsidized housing (known as mixed-status families). If implemented, the regulations would have forced 25,000 mixed-status families in public housing and Section 8 programs to either separate or face eviction — including 55,000 children.
According to a statement issued by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), the Trump Administration claimed the new policy would have addressed the public housing waiting list backlog, but HUD’s own analysis found that the proposed rule would result in fewer families receiving housing assistance. Because not everyone in a mixed-status household is eligible for the HUD subsidy, they pay higher rent; losing this rent income would mean HUD would have less money overall in their budget for subsidizing rental units.
“The withdrawal of this extremely harmful proposal is a win for fair housing – and human decency” said Diane Yentel, President and CEO of NLIHC.
Meanwhile, the Biden Administration said last week that it is reversing a Trump Administration policy that kept millions of Americans from receiving enhanced SNAP benefits that Congress had intended them to have.
‘Because of the Biden Administration’s action, an estimated 25 million people will receive more than $1 billion monthly, beginning this month.
In March of 2020, as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Congress raised households’ SNAP allotment to the maximum amount for their family size. Some $29 billion in additional benefits have been distributed so far under this provision.
But the Trump Administration, reflecting its ideological objection to aggressively addressing hunger in the U.S., implemented the legislation in a way that meant 40 percent of the neediest SNAP households saw no increase in their payments. About 40 percent of these households have children, 20 percent have an elderly member, and 15 percent include someone with a disability.
Nutrition assistance advocates were ecstatic at the reversal.
“We applaud the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for taking action to improve food relief by providing $1 billion per month in additional food assistance to SNAP participants, making the program more equitable for low-income households in need during the pandemic,” said Luis Guardia, President of the Food Research & Action Center in a statement. “Hunger in this country has spiked dramatically as a result of the public health and economic fallout of COVID-19 and things would be far worse if not for SNAP. Expansion and investment of this critical program will improve the nutrition, health, and well-being of households while getting our economy moving.”
Experts in the nutrition assistance field say the Biden Administration’s fight against hunger goes farther than just the latest increase in SNAP payments — as significant as that is.
Jason DeParle, a New York Times reporter and two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize who covers poverty, class and immigration, recently wrote that “the effort to rush more food assistance to more people is notable both for the scale of its ambition and the variety of its legislative and administrative actions.”
“The campaign has increased food stamps by more than $1 billion a month, provided needy children a dollar a day for snacks, expanded a produce allowance for pregnant women and children, and authorized the largest children’s summer feeding program in history,” DeParle wrote.
“We haven’t seen an expansion of food assistance of this magnitude since the founding of the modern food stamp program in 1977,” James P. Ziliak, an economist at the University of Kentucky who studies nutrition programs, told DeParle. “It’s a profound change.”
Another profound change? The Biden Administration is framing its efforts to fight hunger as part of a campaign to address racial inequity.
Stacy Dean is a senior official at USDA who has long worked as an anti-hunger advocate. “This crisis has revealed how fragile many Americans’ economic lives are and also the inequities of who is struggling the most,” Dean told DeParle. “It’s an incredibly painful picture, and it is even more so for communities of color.”
Dean is correct. It is an incredibly painful picture. But perhaps we can take solace from an Administration in power that is willing to look at the picture instead of trying to cover it up.