UNHCR Special Envoy and Academy Award winner Angelina Jolie appeals to Congress to increase food assistance funding in coronavirus relief packages.


WASHINGTON – Actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie is lobbying Congress to increase food assistance to families across the U.S. as coronavirus keeps millions in their homes and children out of schools, where many receive free meals. 

The Academy Award winner — who is well-known for her work internationally with refugees and conservation and human rights groups — wrote a letter to top congressional leaders, shared exclusively with USA TODAY, asking that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits be increased to help children who she says are going hungry due to closure of schools and their parents being out of work. 

“Many of the most vulnerable children in America have missed nearly 740 million meals at school, due to closure resulting from the rapid spread of coronavirus. With parents facing lost jobs and wages, many of these children are going hungry,” she wrote in the April 20 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

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“While strengthening SNAP will not alleviate all of the challenges low-income families are facing during the public health emergency, it will help ensure that fewer children go to bed hungry in our country,” she continued.  

Congress has increased food assistance benefits by more than $15 billion due to the pandemic but Jolie and advocates argue more is needed, a proposal that Democrats have similarly demanded but failed to pass muster with Republicans in the last round of stimulus funding passed late last month. 

About half of all U.S. public schoolchildren rely on free or reduced-price meals. And while schools across the country have attempted to continue providing grab-and-go lunches to those in need, some have halted such programs or curbed them as workers have contracted COVID-19

Before sending the letter, the “Maleficent” star discussed food assistance, how it historically has worked and both the changes under the Trump administration and those enacted due to coronavirus during a video conference call with local food banks and other organizations. The organizations who participated are assisted by No Kid Hungry, a non-profit that fights childhood hunger in America and has supplied emergency grants to local community groups and schools throughout the pandemic to help children access free meals

Those heading the organizations chronicled the cuts seen to food assistance programs under the Trump administration and explained how the short-term increases passed by Congress would not be enough to meet the needs of families across the country, especially as schools remain closed leaving students unable to access free meals. 


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On the April 16 call, Jolie — who is a special envoy of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and a mother of six — reflected on her travels across the world witnessing hunger in third world countries and her disbelief that families in the U.S. were struggling with similar issues. 

“I knew that there were problems in America. I knew that there was poverty,” Jolie told the group. “I could not believe when I realized how many school children in America were dependent on a meal to not go hungry. I was so disgusted that we have gotten to this point as a country.”

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Last month, Democrats proposed a 15% hike in benefits for SNAP, the nation’s food stamp program, during negotiations for a bill that replenished funds for a small business loan program. While a number of Democratic demands, such as more funds for hospitals and mandates that some loans go to smaller businesses without banking relationships, made it into the final $484 billion bill, increased food assistance did not. 

Congressional leaders are still discussing another large stimulus package aimed at helping the country recover from the impacts of the virus and there have been suggestions a bill could move forward soon, though a timeline is unclear. Increased SNAP benefits is likely to come up again as a leading provision in the bill, along with hazard pay for frontline workers, more funds for state and local governments and infrastructure. 

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