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Gillibrand Calls For Continued Support For Food Assistance Programs

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand speaks to reporters
Jesse King

As a federal shutdown looms, a group of Democratic and independent Senators are seeking to maintain funding for a federal program that provides food assistance to families. New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a press conference Tuesday to highlight the issue.

Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, along with other with several of her colleagues including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, recently wrote to Senate leadership to maintain funding levels for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

“At a time when families are facing historic levels of hunger, funding WIC is one of the smartest investments that we can make. Children in WIC are more likely to be immunized on time, consume key nutrients, and have higher cognitive development scores than their peers who are not,” said Gillibrand.

The Senators want to keep the $6 billion investment in WIC in last year’s budget in the new fiscal year.
Gillibrand says WIC also makes referrals to other health and social services as well, at a time when more families are relying on public assistance due to the pandemic. According to the Senator, New York WIC providers have seen a 3 percent caseload increase in 2020 and 20 percent of Americans are struggling to feed their children.

Capital Region food pantries saw a huge increase in demand when initial COVID-19 lockdowns took effect and unemployment skyrocketed in the spring.

Natasha Pernicka, Executive Director of the Food Pantries for the Capital District, recently told WAMC that the organizations’ food access referral line saw a one thousand percent increase in calls last March. Since then, half of the area’s pantries saw a rise in use and are in need of supplies – including equipment like shelving and vehicles for delivery.

“Though we have come through this stronger, thanks to the generosity of volunteers and donors, the resources needed to continue to provide food resources and access are much more than what we have pieced together at this point," Pernicka said.

WIC is funded through the annual Agriculture Appropriations Bill. Gillibrand is also asking Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans to support $20 million for the WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program to allow low-income pregnant and post-partum mothers to use SNAP benefits at authorized farmers markets.

As the pandemic has made hunger more visible, Gillibrand hopes her Senate colleagues will take action. She hopes Republican allies on the issue will be heard during the lame duck session negotiations.

“I’m hoping that as this pandemic has worn on, that people – even like Mitch McConnell – have heard from their constituents that lines are around the block at food banks. And I’m hoping that they’ve heard from enough constituents that they’d be willing to change tactics,” said Gillibrand.

Also this week, Gillibrand wrote to Senators McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in support of extending enhanced federal unemployment benefits that are due to expire on December 26th.

Passed as part of the CARES Act last spring, the 13-week extension of unemployment assistance is set up to assist Americans whose regular unemployment benefits have already expired and who remain out of work. Gillibrand says the extension would affect 12 million workers.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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