Mnuchin: There’s agreement on food assistance |

Mnuchin: There’s agreement on food assistance

Jerry Hagstrom
The Hagstrom Report

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Sunday that the Trump administration and congressional Democrats had reached agreement on food assistance in the next coronavirus aid package.

Negotiations are now stalled, however, and President Donald Trump has issued three memorandums and an executive order to try to address the issues of unemployment benefits and home evictions. But if the negotiations resume, an agreement on food assistance would clear the way for inclusion of aid to farmers and ranchers in the package.

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has said that she would not agree to any aid to farmers and ranchers if there is not more assistance to hungry people. Anti-hunger groups and Democrats have been pushing for a 15% increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit.

Stabenow said Sunday, “The president’s latest executive orders are another cruel political game pitting unemployed Americans against those providing essential state and local services.”

She added that families in Michigan “understand that our small businesses and our family farmers need help to survive until we can safely reopen the economy.”

“Bottom line, we need a bold, bipartisan COVID-19 package that meets the needs of Americans across our country,” Stabenow said. “President Trump and [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.], instead of playing political games, get back to the negotiating table. And do your job!”

Both Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., appeared Sunday on Fox News Sunday, and both sounded willing to go back to the negotiating table.

Mnuchin said the negotiators had reached “a very fair compromise” on food assistance and “knocked that off the list.”

Pelosi said House Democrats had “tens of billions of dollars” for food assistance in their HEROES Act, while the Republicans had offered only $250,000. That was a reference to the Senate HEALS Act proposal that included $250,000 for additional salaries at the Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutrition Service, but did not offer any additional money for the beneficiaries of federal nutrition programs.

Noting that it was Sunday morning, Pelosi recalled a prayer that begins, “Pray hard for those who are hungry, pray harder for those who don’t feed them.”

In a letter to her colleagues late last week about the differences between the House and Senate bills, Pelosi wrote, “Another critical difference in our bills is that we have $67 billion for food, water and utility assistance, while Leader McConnell provides only $250,000 for food.”

Trump’s actions Saturday included a memorandum directing a $400 per week unemployment benefit — with $100 paid for by each state — while the Democrats have been holding out for maintaining the $600 per week federal benefit that expired at the end of July.

But the big difference between the White House and the Democrats seems to be the amount of aid that goes to state and local governments.

Pelosi also said the Democrats would consider reducing the cost of the aid by shortening the term of the package, which Democrats have proposed running until September 2021. Mnuchin also said today that it would be a good idea to write a short-term package and write new legislation in January.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have said they were willing to reduce the cost from $3 trillion to $2 trillion, but that the White House was insistent on keeping the cost to $1 trillion.

There was also a lot of discussion about whether Trump’s orders are constitutional.

When Pelosi was asked about this, she quoted Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who has called the orders “unconstitutional slop.” But Pelosi said the question of whether the orders are legal or not “takes time to figure out.”

When asked on CNN if talks between Republicans and Democrats will resume so that a compromise on unemployment benefits can be reached, Pelosi said, “I hope so. ..”

“Right now, the focus, the priority, has to be on, again, meeting the needs of the American people, sufficiently allocating resources to send children to school, not threatening schools that, if they don’t have actual attendance, they won’t get the federal dollars,” she said.

Mnuchin on Fox also said he had told Pelosi and Schumer that “any time they have a new proposal,” the White House is willing to come back to the table.