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Advocates: Ending Hunger in Utah, U.S. Should be Biden’s Top Priority

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Thousands of Utah families who have lost jobs during the pandemic depend on SNAP benefits to buy enough groceries each month to stave off hunger.

In his first week in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order extending a temporary increase in SNAP benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The measure's 15% boost in nutrition assistance aims to help hard-hit Utah families deal with food insecurity and hunger.

The order also directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to address inadequacies in SNAP, or food stamp, benefits, and instructs states to increase emergency SNAP allotments for households experiencing financial struggles.

Gina Cornia, executive director for Utahns Against Hunger, said Biden's order sends a clear message that ending hunger in Utah and in America must be a top priority.

"Utah distributed that first increase last week," Cornia observed. "Now the families will get an additional 15%. But in Utah, 31% of households already get the maximum benefit and they aren't getting any additional money."

Biden's American Relief Plan includes $1 trillion in assistance to families, including stimulus payments, food assistance and higher jobless benefits.

An alternative bill, touted by the GOP as a bipartisan compromise, offers reduced stimulus payments, less food assistance and decreased unemployment benefits.

Cornia noted Biden's order also extends the Pandemic-EBT Benefit, a lifeline for families to help feed their children who normally get reduced-price or free meals at schools that now are closed.

She added those payments are especially important in smaller communities.

"In a rural community, 75% of the respondents said that they're worried about having enough food," Corina confirmed. "In the urban communities, it is only 34%."

Cornia believes Utah families probably will need food assistance for an extended period until the pandemic subsides.

"It's going to take through this summer for most people to get a vaccine before we may be returned to normal," Cornia predicted.

Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, has introduced Senate Bill 141 to form a Task Force on Food Insecurity to develop a statewide plan to assist families facing hunger. The measure is pending before a Senate committee.