By Jessica Corbett
The nonprofit group Hunger Free America announced Monday that it is running “Hunger Clock” billboard ads across the country to call out GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Republican senators for blocking $16 billion in food assistance for Americans struggling in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is simply unconscionable that Leader McConnell and the Senate GOP are playing politics with food aid while massive numbers of their own constituents struggle against hunger,” Hunger Free America CEO Joel Berg said in a statement. “Food delayed is food denied.”
The group has billboards not only in Kentucky targeting McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) but also in five other states — targeting Sens. Martha McSally (R-AZ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rick Scott (R-FL), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), David Perdue (R-GA), Pat Toomey (R-PA), John Cornyn (R-TX, and Ted Cruz (R-TX).
“Most of them represent states with hunger rates higher than the national average,” said Berg. “Not only would this food support feed hungry people in their home states, but it would also preserve or create local jobs, and thereby help the economy get back on its feet. It is simply shocking that, by his own admission, McConnell is blocking these and other vital aid measures in that bill because he says he doesn’t want to help ‘blue states.'”
In April, McConnell referred to demands for more pandemic relief as “blue state bailouts” in a conversation with right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt.
“While we want to be clear that both sides are not equally to blame for this delay,” Berg explained, “we are also disappointed that Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has not spoken out publicly in favor of the immediate passage of this vital food support at a time when so many Arizona families are going hungry, which is why we also included her in this ad campaign.”
The billboards highlight that it has been 51 days since the Democrat-controlled House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act and the Republican-controlled Senate has not acted on the bill. Although progressives have charged that the coronavirus relief legislation does not go far enough, it does include some much needed food aid.
As Hunger Free America summarized Monday:
The HEROES Act passed by the House provides a 15% increase in benefits for SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program). That hike would increase the average SNAP benefit nationwide by about 20 cents per meal, from the current level of $1.34 per meal to about $1.54 per meal. The bill also includes a $150 million increase for funding to charitable food banks, soup kitchens, and food pantries, many of which are faith-based. Additionally, the bill boosts nutrition support for low-income pregnant women and infants, provides extra food help to children whose school meals programs have been closed during the pandemic, and reimburses school districts for extra food distribution costs during this crisis.
“Let’s be clear: this delay in food aid may lead to even more Americans unnecessarily dying,” declared Berg. “The opposition of congressional Republicans and President Trump to increasing domestic food support during the worst health and hunger crises in modern times is not only morally outrageous and economically self-defeating, but it is also, frankly, dumb politics.”
“Once the American people learn about this food aid holdup, they will be incensed. That is why we urge the public to help us ramp up pressure on Senate Republicans to pass this food assistance immediately,” he added. “Only people power can force an end to this deadly political grandstanding.”
Hunger Free America is encouraging critics of Senate GOP inaction to sign a petition urging the upper chamber to take immediate action, donate to the group to support the billboards and other initiatives, and share personal stories about struggling during the pandemic on social media with the hashtag #PassHeroesAct.