Second gentleman visits Iowa, announces SNAP benefits increase

    Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, left, visits Food Bank of Iowa, joined by Food Bank of Iowa CEO Michelle Book, U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. (Photo courtesy of Rep. Cindy Axne's office)

    Douglas Emhoff, making his first visit to Iowa as second gentleman, announced Monday that federal food-assistance benefits would increase by 15% through September 2021.

    The increase in the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, will provide an estimated $3.5 billion to households with food insecurity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The increase was recently approved as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, the American Rescue Plan.

    Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, visited and toured the Food Bank of Iowa in Des Moines Monday, along with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne. Afterward, they joined a roundtable discussion.

    Emhoff said the benefits increase “is a massive victory for Americans all over the country,” according to media pool reports. He said hunger is a real issue that he saw during the campaign.

    Vilsack said the increase in SNAP benefits will provide $28 more per person, per month, or more than $100 per month for a household of four. He called the benefits increase “a significant step forward.”

    Axne said there is a lot of need in this area of the country that grows a significant amount of the nation’s food. She said 20% to 25% of children are food insecure.

    She praised President Joe Biden, Harris and Congress for being willing to pass a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. “It had to be big and it had to be bold. That’s why the president and vice president went forward with this,” she said.


    Emhoff’s visit was part of a tour that White House officials said was to “highlight how the American Rescue Plan delivers immediate financial relief to families, extends increased access to nutritional benefits, and ramps up efforts to curb the pandemic.”

    Food Bank of Iowa CEO Michelle Book guided Emhoff, Vilsack and Axne on a tour of the facility. They walked among food boxes stacked ceiling-high in a warehouse with 20-foot high ceilings and about the length of a football field.

    During the tour, Book told Emhoff that on one day in April 2020, the Food Bank of Iowa had 9,000 people come to the site for food assistance. Book said at one point the U.S Army National Guard helped the food bank with distribution efforts. “The need immediately doubled and we had to do that to get food to people,” Book said.

    The group also observed four volunteers packing food bags that will be distributed to schools and given to students to take home. The volunteers filled plastic grocery bags with fruit, juice, cereal, microwaveable pasta, and other food. Emhoff asked each volunteer how he or she decided to get involved.

    Book said the food bank kept its volunteer program open during the pandemic, and said volunteer participation “skyrocketed.” She also showed the guests note cards that are placed into each of the food bags with written messages of encouragement from the volunteers.

    Also joining the roundtable discussion were Carla Peterman, a volunteer with Food Bank of Iowa; Izaah Knox, executive director of Urban Dreams; and Diane Daniels, founder of SALUD: Multicultural Coalition of Storm Lake. Urban Dreams and SALUD are charity organizations that serve underserved and underrepresented populations.

    Emhoff will participate in similar events in Omaha Tuesday and St. Louis on Wednesday.

    Kathie Obradovich
    Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.