DENVER — Children’s advocates are urging Colorado’s U.S. Senators — Republican Cory Gardner and Democrat Michael Bennet — to move quickly to pass the next COVID-19 relief package, and to ensure that it includes increased support for food-assistance programs.
The groups include the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, Colorado Fiscal Institute and Hunger Free Colorado.
Ashley Wheeland, director of public policy for Hunger Free Colorado, said as the nation continues to grapple with the pandemic, nutrition programs are critical for meeting children’s most fundamental needs.
“So that we have the locations for them to pick up food, as well as pandemic EBT, which provides families dollars to buy food for their kids that right now aren’t getting the food that they usually get in school,” Wheeland explained.
Unemployment in Colorado reached a record high of more than 11%, and Wheeland believes it’s time to increase benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, by 15%. That was done during the most recent recession, which saw some 40,000 Colorado children fall into poverty.
Colorado also could see a half-million new people enroll in Medicaid this year, a result of losing employer-based coverage.
Unless Congress passes additional relief, Wheeland predicted more children will be subjected to toxic stress during critical developmental years as their families struggle to afford the basics, keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table.
As Wheeland put it, “Focusing on these programs and making sure that they’re providing the adequate amount of assistance people need right now can mean the difference of a family making it through this, or having to make difficult decisions and losing their homes.”
Hunger Free Colorado also is calling on Congress to extend waivers for programs that have helped cut through red tape and streamline the process for families to access SNAP, school meals, emergency feeding programs and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.