Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., predicts that the Senate will pass a bill Tuesday to provide an additional $450 billion in coronavirus relief funds. The package, which reportedly focuses primarily on money for small businesses, hospitals and expanded testing, will not include Democratic proposals to fund the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
The decision not to provide additional food stamp aid at this time was reportedly discussed on a Sunday afternoon conference call between Republican leaders and the president. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin "said the money for state and local government funding, as well as food stamp aid requested by Democrats, would not be included in the deal," Politico wrote.
News that additional SNAP funding was on hold came as job and income losses place increased strain on the assistance program. The USDA's Food and Nutrition Service said it would provide up to $500 million to cover expected increases in WIC participation, as well as an additional $850 million to SNAP for states to distribute to food banks and food pantries. However, with an annual budget of more than $60 billion and surging unemployment, the sprawling program will likely require even more funding.
More than 22 million Americans have lost their jobs over the last month. CEO Eric Cooper estimated to NPR that half of those seeking help from the San Antonio Food Bank right now are first-timers. A photo of ten thousand cars waiting at his distribution center went viral last week.
Since shutdown guidance went into place, images have circulated of long lines at food banks nationwide, sometimes stretching for miles. Louisiana, New York and Washington have all called in the National Guard to ensure that food bank operations run smoothly. Mike Manning, chief executive at the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, told The New York Times that the uniformed presence "provides safety for us during distributions."
Stephanie Land argued in BuzzFeed News that a SNAP expansion was the fastest and easiest way to get relief to the most vulnerable. Though the USDA has relaxed requirements and given states more flexibility with distributions, the program and the people it supports, need assistance. Feeding America, the largest food bank network, estimates it could come up $1.4 billion short in the next six months.
Federal benefits will take their time to Plinko down to the actual recipients. Unemployment expansion is handled by each state's system. The $1,200 government payments will take weeks, if not months. Undocumented workers will not see any of those funds.
The new relief package also tries to patch up the Paycheck Protection Program, which was allegedly exploited by corporations at the cost of small businesses. The program, designed to keep small businesses afloat during the coronavirus shutdown, ran out of its allocated $350 billion in less than two weeks — "more than 14 years' worth of loans in less than 14 days," according to a statement from Mnuchin.
The loans, which small businesses do not need to repay if they are used to pay employees over the next two and a half months, were awarded through a network of banks on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, critics claim that the program did not do enough to help small businesses, thanks to an exemption which opened the pool of taxpayer money to larger companies. National restaurant chains such as Ruth's Chris and Shake Shack, hotels, even investment firms and a coal mine all reportedly took out loans worth between $10 million and $20 million apiece.
"It's a reminder to small businesses that our voices are dampened," one proprietor told CNN. "What are we doing this for? Why are we in business just to be told we're not good enough because we're not big enough?"
And that exemption drew bipartisan criticism. "Many of the larger small businesses, due to the fact that they had the ability to hire people to file the applications and are more sophisticated, left a lot of Main Street entrepreneurs, you know, just waiting and never getting through," Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., told USA Today.
Shake Shack later revealed that it had returned its $10 million, having secured funding through another equity transaction.