116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES - With a food bank striving to keep up with surging demand during the pandemic as his backdrop, Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, announced Monday that federal benefits for people on SNAP - food stamps - will increase through September.
Monday's event, held at the Food Bank of Iowa in Des Moines, was organized by the White House to highlight the $1.9 trillion federal COVID-19 pandemic relief package.
Emhoff was joined by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the former two-term Democratic Iowa governor whose confirmation hearings underscored the issue of food insecurity, and U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa.
Emhoff announced a 15 percent increase in benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for the next six months.
The federal agriculture department, which administers the program, said the increase passed as part of the American Rescue Plan will provide an estimated $3.5 billion to households nationwide experiencing food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vilsack, during Monday's event, said that will boost benefits roughly $28 per person per month, or more than $100 per month for a household of four.
Vilsack called the food assistance benefits increase 'a significant step forward,” and Emhoff called it 'a massive victory for Americans all over the country.”
During the event, Food Bank of Iowa Chief Executive Officer Michelle Book guided Emhoff, Vilsack and Axne on a tour of the facility. The group walked among boxes stacked ceiling high in a warehouse with 20-foot ceilings and about the length of a football field.
During the tour, Book told Emhoff that in April 2020, roughly 5,000 people attended a drive-through event at Food Bank of Iowa. She said at one point, the U.S. Army National Guard helped the food bank with distribution efforts.
'The need immediately doubled and we had to do that to get food to people,” Book said.
The group also observed four volunteers packing food bags that will be distributed to schools and given to students to take home. The volunteers filled plastic bags with fruit, juice, cereal, microwaveable pasta and other food.
Food pantries in the Corridor also have reported spiking demand in the pandemic as people lost their jobs and also faced costly damages in the Aug. 10 derecho.
During a roundtable discussion, Axne said former President Barack Obama was hesitant to approve a stimulus package that reached $1 trillion, and praised President Joe Biden and Congress their willingness to pass a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package.
'It had to be big and it had to be bold. That's why the president and vice president went forward with this,” she said.
The roundtable discussion also included Carla Peterman, a volunteer with Food Bank of Iowa; Izaah Knox, executive director of Urban Dreams; and Diane Daniels, founder of SALUD: Multicultural Coalition of Storm Lake. Urban Dreams and SALUD are charity organizations that serve underserved and underrepresented populations.
The federal pandemic relief package did not receive any votes of support from congressional Republicans. In a statement Monday, national Republican Party spokesman Michael Joyce called the package 'a progressive wish list.”
'Sending Doug Emhoff and Tom Vilsack to Des Moines doesn't change the fact that Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion boondoggle of a spending bill is full of pork and unrelated projects that have nothing to do with directly combating COVID,” Joyce's statement said.
A centerpiece of the package is $1,400 stimulus payments to most U.S. adults, an extension of federal unemployment benefits and funding to expand COVID-19 testing and assist administration of COVID-19 vaccines.
Iowa's nonpartisan Legislative Service Agency estimated Monday that the plan - in addition to the payments to individuals - will funnel nearly $4.5 billion to Iowa state and local governments to help deal with pandemic costs.
The funding for Iowa will assist schools and child care programs, among many others, according to the nonpartisan state analysis.