(CNN) Stacey Abrams joined forces Andrew Yang on Tuesday to announce the launch of a new campaign aimed at providing $1,000 in direct cash payments to 100,000 families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
The announcement comes as shutdown measures across the country to combat the coronavirus pandemic have put millions of Americans out of work and closed schools, which for millions of low-income students provide free or reduced-priced meals.
The two Democrats unveiled the "Project 100" campaign, an effort organized by nonprofit GiveDirectly, software company Propel, and education advocacy group Stand for Children. The effort has already raised $55 million, the group announced Tuesday. The campaign also announced several celebrity backers, including Ariana Grande, Rihanna, Halsey, Stephen Colbert, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and others.
"The most economically vulnerable are struggling to survive, unable to afford groceries or medicines for their children, let alone cover utilities, car payments, and rent," Abrams said.
Yang, who mounted his 2020 presidential campaign championing direct cash payments to Americans, says Project 100 is a "vital supplement" for families in need.
"You know, the government's doing everything it can to help -- that's not actually not right, it should be doing more," Yang, a CNN contributor, said in an interview Monday.
"Well, the Small Business Paycheck Protection Program ran out of money," Yang said. "And right now, the people in institutions that are most directly connected to other banks who are able to process the federal payments, or in some cases are connected to the government itself, are in much better position to benefit than the folks who are receiving money through Project 100, or the small business operator or unemployed worker, who has been out of luck when they've gone to the SBA or their state unemployment office for benefits. So, we should be putting money directly into Americans hands. That's something that we know would work."
"This is a devastating time for millions of Americans and anyone with a capacity to help should be doing everything they can to help," Yang added.
The announcement comes after a pilot effort by GiveDirectly and Propel delivered cash payments to 4,500 families in 21 states.
Jennifer Porter, who works part-time at a Kroger in Pontiac, Michigan, was one of those recipients. She heard about the campaign from her Fresh EBT app, which allows her to track her SNAP benefits online, and has already used the $1000 for groceries and car payments.
"I have friends that are still waiting on their unemployment payments," Porter told CNN in an interview Monday, "who haven't had any cash since this whole virus started. So, I know that, if this program continues, I know for a fact that it will be a help to a lot of other single mothers."
The $2.2 trillion relief package passed through Congress at the end of March featured direct relief payment to individuals and provisions to address food insecurity for low-income families, but it did not expand eligibility or benefits for those on SNAP. Democrats have pushed for a 15% increase in SNAP funding in the next stimulus package, but a GOP leadership aide tells CNN that the increased funding will not be in the final package.
Direct payments from the coronavirus stimulus bill could take up to 20 weeks for Americans receiving benefits by mailed check, according to a House Democratic memo outlining the IRS's response.
"Families across America struggling to put food on the table or make rent can't wait for help and we aren't waiting either," Michael Faye, the CEO of GiveDirectly said in a statement released Tuesday. The campaign will specifically target families on SNAP still waiting to receive government stimulus checks and will disburse payments of $1,000 via the GiveDirectly direct donation platform.
UPDATE: This story, headline and photo has been updated to reflect that Sen. Cory Booker was not part of today's announcement despite being listed by the organizers in an advance press release shared with CNN.