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Photo: Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday a 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through September, providing about $3.5 billion of assistance to people affected by food insecurity.

Why it matters: The pandemic has spurred an uptick in food stamp spending. As part of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, the increase in benefits will provide about $28 more per person per month or more than $100 more per month for a household of four.

What they're saying: "We cannot sit by and watch food insecurity grow in the United States," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

  • "The American Rescue Plan brings help to those hurting the most due to the pandemic. It increases SNAP benefits so households can afford to put food on the table.
  • "It invests in working people and small towns and small businesses to get the economy back on track. And it makes the most meaningful investments in generations to reduce poverty," Vilsack added.

The big picture: Those struggling with food insecurity often have higher rates of underlying health conditions, which can "increase the risk of people developing severe COVID-19 symptoms," according to a United Nations report.

  • During the first few months of the pandemic, Black households with children experienced food insecurity at nearly two times the rate of white households with children, per a report from Northwestern University's Institute for Policy Research.
  • The increase in benefits paints a sharp contrast to the Trump administration's attempt to block states from giving emergency food stamps to low-income Americans during the pandemic last year.

Go deeper

Judge temporarily blocks South Carolina ban on school mask mandates

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster. Photo: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked South Carolina's ban on mask mandates in schools, ruling that it discriminated against students with disabilities and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Why it matters: As mask bans extend to public schools around the country, parents and disability rights activists have sounded alarm bells. The ruling may signal the outcomes of legal fights playing out across the country.

DeSantis takes legal action against Biden efforts on immigration

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took legal action on Tuesday to try to stop the Biden administration's immigration plans.

Why it matters: The Republican governor, who is running for re-election next year and is possibly eyeing a 2024 presidential bid, is picking a high-profile fight with Biden while re-upping his hardline stance on immigration.

Left: Senate's threat "insane"

The famously press-shy Sen. Kyrsten Sinema speaks briefly with reporters on Tuesday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) lambasted Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) on Tuesday, saying "it's insane" that "one senator" is blocking attempts to settle on a palatable figure for President Biden's proposed $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package.

Why it matters: The figure is the linchpin to getting progressive support for the companion $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package. Khanna's statement reflects broader dissatisfaction among House progressives with Sinema and her fellow holdout, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).