snap-covid-relief From left, Abigail Leocadio, stands with her children, Areli, 9, Eliel, 12, Zeret, 10, and Samai, 15, after a delivery from the Emmaus House food pantry Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Phoenix, Arizona.
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

Pennsylvania counties are seeing a surge of food insecurity. In Philadelphia, it has increased from 16.3% in 2018 to 21.8% this year. Rural areas are affected, too: In Elk County, it’s at 15.9% (up from 9.9% in 2018).

People are going hungry. Months since the pandemic began in the US, there’s still a great need for food and assistance. Food pantries are running out of food, some people resort to shoplifting, and advocates for the hungry say the government needs to provide help now. 

Since February, 6 to 7 million more people nationwide have applied and been approved for benefits through the Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Pennsylvania has seen a 10% increase in participants in the program, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. But advocates say the current benefit plan in place is not enough, so they are urging Congress to expand on SNAP. However, Congress isn’t any closer to passing on a second COVID stimulus relief plan. 

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“Congress has been fighting about an extra stimulus package since the summer, and meanwhile, children are going hungry, families are worried about losing their homes,” Lisa Davis, senior vice president of the No Kid Hungry Campaign, told ABC News. “If kids continue to go hungry, at this rate, it’s because Congress chose this path.”

The organization reports that because of the COVID crisis, one in four kids could face hunger. They also say millions of families are experiencing the hungriest holiday season in memory. 

In a recent survey, almost 12% of Americans (an estimated 25.7 million people) said they did not have enough to eat at the beginning of December. According to projected figures by Feeding America, Pennsylvania counties are seeing a surge of food insecurity. In Philadelphia, it has increased from 16.3% in 2018 to 21.8% this year. In Luzerne County, it has increased from 11.9% in 2018 to 17.1% in 2020. Rural areas are affected, too: In Fayette County, it has climbed to 19.4% (up from 14.2% in 2018). In Cameron County, it’s at 18.5% (up from 12.6% in 2018). And in Elk County, it’s at 15.9% (up from 9.9% in 2018).

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the national SNAP participation figures began to increase in March, with more than a quarter of a million people signing up. In April, the number of SNAP participants was 12% higher. By May, the number of SNAP participants increased by 17%. There has been some progress in providing more SNAP benefits, but advocates say more is needed. 

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On Monday, lawmakers introduced a bipartisan $908 billion coronavirus relief package, which included $13 billion for increased SNAP assistance and funding for food banks and pantries. 

“We are encouraged by this bipartisan showing of support to strengthen the nutrition programs that will help feed vulnerable children and their families during this crisis,” Davis said in a statement. “This is an important first step in helping families who are facing extreme hardship who need support right now.”

However, according to a report from The New York Times, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, seems unlikely to be supporting it

Keystone Managing Editor Christina Kristofic contributed to this report.