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Utah Families Need Continued Support to Recover from Crisis

While the $900 billion pandemic-relief package should be a welcome assist for struggling Utah families, a coalition that works to fight hunger in the state said it's only a small step toward bringing their lives back to normal.

The stimulus bill, passed by Congress and signed by the president, will provide minimal cash assistance and a small increase in SNAP benefits. But Gina Cornia, director of Utahns Against Hunger, said thousands of families devastated by the COVID-19 crisis will need sustained assistance to fully recover.

"Even though we now have a couple of vaccines that will be available, it's not going to be available to everybody all at once," she said. "So, through the rest of the winter, the spring and the summer, families are going to continue to need assistance. Individuals are going to continue to need assistance."

The measure provides $600 cash payments to qualified individuals, extends a ban on evictions, provides additional loans for small business, aid to school districts and other benefits.

Cornia said a record number of Utah families became food-insecure for the first time in recent months, meaning they don't always have an adequate amount of nutritious food. They've flocked to local food banks to put meals on the table, which is putting a long-term strain on the system.

"As the economy improves and the impact from the pandemic may flatten, the need for emergency food is going to continue," she said. "It has for decades; we know that that's not going to change, and the lingering effects will be ongoing for at least 18 more months."

Cornia said she believes the pandemic caught both state and federal policymakers unprepared, making the crisis worse than it needed to be.

"We need policymakers to be more forward-looking and think about what policy solutions and funding solutions are available to them," she said, "so that the next crisis—whether it is some economic crisis or a health crisis— that we're not caught off guard."

She added that Utahns Against Hunger plans to work with both state and federal officials in the new year to bolster long-term food assistance and other key programs to help Utah families recover.