Millions of children threatened by hunger need Congress to come together

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 18: Christy Cusick hands out free school lunches to kids and their parents at Olympic Hills Elementary School on March 18, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. As a result of all schools in Washington state being closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak until at least April 27th, Seattle Public Schools is providing carry-out meals to students during lunch hours. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Hamdi Ulukaya is the founder and chief executive officer of the Greek yogurt brand Chobani, the second largest overall yogurt manufacturer in the US. Claire Babineaux-Fontenot is the chief executive officer of Feeding America, the largest hunger relief and food rescue organization in the US. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. Read more opinion articles on CNN.

(CNN)Over the next few weeks, Congress and the Trump administration will decide whether a quarter of America's children will have enough to eat each day.

Widespread hunger is being driven by unemployment rates that are the highest they have been since the Great Depression. Black and Hispanic families disproportionately experienced food insecurity even before Covid-19, and evidence suggests that in the wake of the pandemic they are facing hunger at rates approximately double that of white families. According to Feeding America's pulse survey, food banks are seeing a 50% increase in demand with many families seeking assistance for the first time while too many are having to make the impossible choice of buying enough food or paying their rent and utility bills.
America is not equally affected by hunger. Before Covid-19, in 2018, Black households with children were 2.5 times more likely to be food insecure than white ones, and Latino households with kids were 1.7 times more likely. There has been a similar disparity since the early weeks of the pandemic, with food insecurity rates among Black adults with children (37.4%) and Hispanic/Latino adults with children (39.3%) roughly doubling those of white adults with children (17.6%).
    Lawmakers in DC must put political differences aside and start to consider the millions of children and families struggling every day.
    There are two clear solutions to this problem:
    One is to increase the maximum benefit for people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by 15% for the duration of this economic crisis. SNAP is the best nutrition program for America's children and provides families with the means to purchase food in their communities.
    This aid can help reduce the need for charitable assistance by putting money for food into the hands of people who need it most.
    It also acts as an economic stimulus. If we want to get money flowing directly to local retailers and grocers, there may be no better tool than SNAP. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), every $1 billion in SNAP dollars increases GDP by over $1.5 billion. The USDA also estimates that every $1 billion invested in SNAP supports more than 13,000 jobs. This program helps pull communities out of economic freefall and families out of poverty. It needs to be expanded immediately.
    Second, Congress and the Administration must figure out how we get food to kids who depend on free or reduced-price school lunch. Many schools will be closed or only partially open. Congress could extend the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program, which gives families dependent on school lunch about $5 a day to fill this gap. Since the pandemic started, 49 states have set up Pandemic EBT programs giving millions of families access to these vital resources.
    Congress passed the Pandemic EBT program in March by overwhelming margins in both chambers. Back then, unemployment was just over 4% and schools across the country were largely still open. In July, the unemployment rate stood at 10.2% and entire school systems have closed with some of them reopening as coronavirus cases spike in some states. As the crisis deepens, it would defy all statistical evidence, common sense, and basic compassion if Congress does not extend P-EBT.
    Both Congress and the Executive Branch will be considering these solutions in the midst of our society's long-overdue reassessment of equality, inclusion, and justice in America.
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      Nonprofits and concerned businesses have stepped up to try to help. Feeding America's network of food banks, volunteers and donors, with partners like the yogurt manufacturer Chobani, are doing all we can, but we can't do it alone. We need our leaders in Congress to help and support the millions of children who have lost reliable meals and the nourishment they need to grow and thrive.
      It remains to be seen if Congress and the administration will come to agreement on a Covid relief package -- if they do, that is likely to be the last major bill we will see responding to the pandemic this year. As clear-eyed optimists, we remain hopeful they will do the right thing to help America's children.