Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Colorado, joined by advocacy organizations, called yesterday for food assistance to be included in the COVID relief package under consideration in Congress.

Marc Jacobson, director of Hunger Free Colorado, which works to eliminate hunger in Colorado, appeared in a Zoom media conference, along with Colorado state Senators Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood) and Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa), and Erin Pulling, president of Food Bank of the Rockies, to discuss the need for increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to be passed by Congress.

Two Colorado SNAP recipients also joined the press conference to provide firsthand accounts of receiving SNAP benefits.

Jacobson and other speakers at the news conference called on U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) to pass a 15% increase in SNAP benefits. This increase would be across the board, said Jacobson, which means that everyone receiving SNAP would see a direct 15% increase in how much they receive monthly.

“Colorado is facing an unprecedented hunger crisis,” said Jacobson. “Hunger Free Colorado’s just-released survey shows that, due to the pandemic, more than one in three Coloradans are facing food insecurity right now.”

Jacobson noted that more people than ever are receiving SNAP benefits, due to the economic upheaval caused by the pandemic.

“SNAP enrollment is up by more than 20%, as a result of the increased need,” said Jacobson. “We know that with food prices at their highest level in almost 50 years, we need a boost in SNAP benefits in order to make sure that families are receiving enough to get by.”

Pulling offered a similar outlook on how uncertain Coloradans’ financial situations have become.

“At Food Bank of the Rockies, we’ve almost doubled the amount of food that we are distributing every week,” said Pulling. “And 30-40% of the clients we are serving report that they have never in their entire lives needed any sorts of food assistance. So the need that we are seeing is unprecedented.”

And although some might think that Colorado can get by with food bank support alone: “We know that we alone can’t ‘food bank’ our way out of this,” said Pulling. “SNAP actually provides nine meals for every one meal that a food bank provides.”

SNAP is especially crucial for families with children, and more so when the fate of schools in the fall is still uncertain, said Jacobson.

“Colorado’s youth are being hit particularly hard. More than–almost 25% of parents indicated they had to cut back on meals for their children because they can’t afford it,” Jacobson said. “That is just devastating, because we know that inadequate nutrition for children has impacts on health and wellbeing into adulthood.”

Crowder, who represents a southern Colorado district, said rural Colorado is in especially dire need of SNAP benefits right now, where jobs are scarce.

“I have 16 counties, and 15 of those 16 counties are below the federal poverty level. So I think this is a–this is a simple ask,” Crowder said. “With the COVID-19 that we are facing right now, the unemployment rate as it is, and the underemployment rate as it is, I think a 15% increase in SNAP is well within any logical person’s realm.”

Pettersen, who grew up using food stamps, reminisced on her own childhood, in which her family wasn’t always sure if there would be enough benefits to make it through the month. She also noted how difficult it was to survive during the Great Recession as a working adult, and how important food benefits were then, as well.

“We have seen through the Great Recession that it was very effective when the increase was implemented in supporting families, making sure they got by during the difficult times, but also it was very important in stimulating our local economy,” said Pettersen.

That economic stimulation is a major argument in favor of increased SNAP benefits, noted by several speakers today.

“SNAP is critically important. It allows people to purchase food here locally, which, those funds go back into Colorado’s economy,” said Pulling. “We know that for every dollar spent on SNAP, reports from past recessions show that the state benefits in $1.50 in economic stimuli.”

The 15% SNAP increase is just the bare minimum of what some of the speakers would like to see.

“The actual estimate on what it would take to ensure that people have the necessary nutrition that they need would be a 20% increase, and we’re only asking and pushing for a 15% increase,” said Pettersen.

In addition to a 15% increase, Jacobson told the Colorado Times Recorder that he would also like to see the upcoming relief bill provide other nutrition provisions, include emergency feeding sites for children; Pandemic EBT, which would replace free or reduced-price meals that children would receive at school; doubling the SNAP monthly minimum benefit; postponing SNAP time limits and work requirements for two years; an increase on state SNAP administrative funding; and an increase on the fruit and vegetable benefit for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)–among many others.

“[The SNAP increase is] crucial for our families, it’s crucial for our businesses, it’s crucial for our farmers and ranchers who are producing the food, and it’s crucial for our community,” said Jacobson.