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Children suffer as COVID-19 ravages our nation

Rev. Gabriel Salguero, founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, speaks at the 2018 Council for Christian Colleges and Universities International Forum at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas on Jan. 31, 2018.
Rev. Gabriel Salguero, founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, speaks at the 2018 Council for Christian Colleges and Universities International Forum at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas on Jan. 31, 2018. | (Photo: The Christian Post / Samuel Smith)

It is no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted vulnerable communities. As a Latino evangelical pastor who sees first-hand the deleterious effects of hunger in our communities, I am calling on Congress to act again on behalf of those who are particularly exposed to hunger, housing and economic hardships. So many members of my congregation are suffering. They’ve lost jobs and loved ones.  

In the early months of the pandemic, Congress responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with swift, strong, and bipartisan actions. But more needs to be done. 

Sickness, devastation and income inequality loom as this pandemic persists. Week after week I, like many of the pastors of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, have seen the church-run food distribution lines continue to grow and more and more families needing additional support. The unemployment and underemployment realities require an urgent response. As a nation, we can and must do better.

As a Christian, I believe God calls us to care for the "least among us." COVID-19 is a hunger crisis. Congress ought to make nutrition part of its priorities in the next stimulus bill to assist those hit the hardest by this crisis here and abroad. Specifically, Congress should:  increase SNAP benefits by at least 15%, extend pandemic-EBT to ensure children have access to nutrition this summer and invest $20 billion for the global response to COVID-19. Each of these will go a long way in helping the most vulnerable in our communities.

By acting on these legislative priorities, Congress can help struggling people access the food they need to lead healthy and fulfilling lives, including immigrant families, many of which have U.S. children. 

Increasing SNAP benefits not only help families impacted by the economic downturn put food on the table, but supports local economies in states. Every $1 increase in SNAP benefits generates more than $1.50 in economic activity.

For children, even brief periods of hunger can carry a lifetime of consequences. A pandemic-EBT benefit of approximately $114 per child, per month could be a tremendous resource for families struggling with layoffs and furloughs. Unfortunately, the benefits are only available to families when school is in session. I urge Congress in the next stimulus bill to extend pandemic-EBT benefits into the summer.

Around the world, strong U.S. leadership is needed to address the increase in extreme hunger amid the pandemic. I urge Congress to provide $20 billion toward global food and nutrition programs, emergency global health, flexible humanitarian assistance and urgent economic relief, and development of and access to new vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments.

As a Latino and an evangelical pastor, my faith calls me to stand alongside people facing hunger and poverty. I urge Congress and those who represent us in Florida to make nutrition investments a priority in the next stimulus package. Inaction is not an option.

Rev. Gabriel Salguero serves as President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition and Pastor of The Gathering Place in Orlando, Florida.

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