More than 1,900 children are hospitalised for COVID-19 across the US, which is being hit hard by the Delta variant.
United States President Joe Biden’s administration announced on Monday that it has approved the largest permanent increase to food stamp benefits – a boost that the White House and proponents of the move hope will help low-income families afford healthier food choices when stocking their fridges and pantries.
Starting in October, average benefits for food stamps — officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — will increase more than 25 percent above pre-pandemic levels.
Some 42 million people in the US – about one in eight — currently receive SNAP benefits.
SNAP enjoyed a 15 percent boost last year to protect Americans from the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic. But that benefit expires in September.
On Monday, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters that the hike in benefits “will do a better job of providing healthy food for low-income families”.
The average monthly per-person benefits for qualified recipients will rise by $36, from $121 to $157, according to government figures.
Nutrition advocates say that the hike will help American families choose better quality food and improve nutrition and overall health.
The move is projected to cost an additional $20bn per year and will not have to be approved by Congress.
“Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, I think there’s a shared understanding of the importance of this programme,” Vilsack said in a conference call with journalists.
The benefits-boost is part of the Biden administration’s effort to strengthen national social safety nets, where inadequacies were laid bare during the pandemic.
“A lot of people who thought they’d never take part in the SNAP programme found themselves in need,” Vilsack said. “The pandemic sort of shocked people out of the belief that this was a programme for someone else.”
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi commended the move on Monday.
“Even before the pandemic, countless parents have struggled to put enough food on the table, as current SNAP benefits no longer support a full, healthy diet,” Pelosi said in a statement. “We applaud the President for delivering this increase ahead of schedule to bolster food and economic security for millions of working families as we emerge from this crisis.”
She said the historic boost in the benefit will ensure “parents will be able to afford healthy food for their families and children will not have to go to bed hungry.”