Biden signs executive orders dismanting the 1776 Commission and report
President Joe Biden pauses as he signs his first executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Around 40 million Americans say they don’t have enough to eat, according to the latest data from the US Census Bureau.

President Joe Biden plans to take initial steps to address America’s hunger crisis on Friday by increasing federal food aid for millions of hungry families who’ve been economically devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Biden is expected to sign an executive order directing the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow states to increase the weekly benefit for the neediest recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, often known as food stamps. The order would directly help about 12 million Americans who were already receiving the maximum assistance under the program and did not benefit from earlier increases in emergency food stamp aid implemented by the Trump administration. 

Biden’s action would increase benefits by 15% to 20% for a family of four, according to Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council. A family of four can currently receive no more than $782 in SNAP benefits per month.

The president is also asking the USDA to increase benefits for families with children eligible for free or low-cost school meals when schools are closed. Biden’s proposed 15% increase to the Pandemic EBT program would give a family with three children an extra $100 every two months. Biden also reportedly plans to ask the USDA to re-evaluate the formula used to set SNAP benefits, so it better reflects the updated cost of a healthy diet. 

Biden’s actions indicate he is taking the nation’s surging hunger crisis seriously and working to expand food assistance rather than limit it, as the Trump administration often did. Help is urgently needed, too. More than 29 million adults and between 8 million and 12 million children report sometimes or often not having enough to eat, according to the latest data from the US Census Bureau. Those figures represent a substantial increase over the pre-pandemic rate.

Deese acknowledged to reporters on Thursday that Biden’s actions were not a substitute for comprehensive legislation, but added that the executive orders would “provide a critical lifeline to millions of American families,” while the administration negotiates with Congress over Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal.

“The American people can’t afford to wait,” Deese told reporters. “So so many are hanging by a thread. They need help, and we are committed to doing everything we can to provide that help as quickly as possible.”

Biden’s efforts are already receiving praise from anti-hunger advocates.

“We are delighted to see the Biden Administration taking swift action to address our nation’s hunger crisis. The most effective way to ensure families with children have enough to eat is by providing them with the resources to purchase the food they need,” Lisa Davis, senior vice president of Share Our Strength, said in a statement. “Increasing SNAP and Pandemic EBT benefits will do this. And, since these benefits are spent quickly at local grocery stores and markets, they also stimulate local economies.”

Biden also plans to sign several other economically-focused executive orders on Friday, including measures that will:

  • Direct the Treasury Department to deliver previously approved stimulus checks to Americans who haven’t received them yet 
  • Ask the US Labor Department to clarify that workers who refuse to return to work due to unsafe working conditions that could expose them to the coronavirus should be eligible for unemployment benefits
  • Make it easier for federal workers to engage in collective bargaining for better pay and benefits
  • Direct agencies to lay the groundwork for providing a $15 minimum wage and emergency paid leave to all federal contractors