Nearly 21 million children in the United States and its territories are expected to receive food benefits this summer through a newly permanent federal program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday.
Thirty-five states, all five U.S. territories and four tribes opted into the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer, or Summer EBT, program, which the government says is intended to complement existing summer programs that have had a more limited scope.
“No child in this country should go hungry.”said the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, in an interview with The Associated Press. “They certainly shouldn’t go hungry because they lose access to nutritious school meals during the summer months.”
In December 2022, Congress made Summer EBT permanent starting in 2024 after federal Agriculture had tested it for several years. States that opted out this summer will have the opportunity to join by summer 2025, according to the agency.
Who is eligible for Summer EBT?
Families with children eligible for free or reduced price lunches (i.e., families who are at or below 185% of the federal poverty level) will be eligible for Summer EBT, which will cover approximately 70% of the eligible population in his first year.
In an October report, Federal Agriculture said an estimated 17 million U.S. households had trouble finding enough food in 2022. This was up from 13.5 million in 2021, when there was more federal food aid due to the pandemic.
How much do families receive?
Eligible families will receive $40 per month per child during the summer, a total of $120 per child. The money will be loaded onto an EBT card, which can be used at stores that also accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
Federal Agriculture estimates it will provide a total of $2.5 million in food benefits in 2024 through the Summer EBT program.
Who chose to participate?
The Cherokee Nation is one of four tribes that will be part of the inaugural summer. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said it was an easy decision.
“I think we’re seeing a lot of pressure on households in terms of rent or other housing costs, all of that affects very limited family budgets,” he said, adding: “This solves part of that overall problem by empowering parents to just be able to go out and buy more food and some healthy options that are available.”
The Cherokee Nation is headquartered in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, a state that opted not to participate in the Summer EBT. Hoskin said he expects more applications from non-tribal citizens who live on the reservation.
Which states will not participate and why?
Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming chose not to participate this summer.
Nebraska, Iowa and Oklahoma cited existing programs that already feed children during the summer as reasons for not joining Summer EBT.
Implementing a Summer EBT program this year “was not feasible” in Texas, Thomas Vasquez, spokesman for the state Health and Human Services Commission, said in a statement to the AP. He said this was due to USDA guidance that came in late December, “the level of effort necessary” to start a new program and the need for the state legislature to approve funding for it.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said in a statement that he does not want “any Oklahoma child to go hungry, and I will continue to work to achieve that goal, but large, duplicative federal programs do not achieve that goal.
“They create more bureaucracy for families to go through.”
What other federal summer food programs are available?
All 50 states already administer the Summer Food Service Program, which provides places where children can eat for free. Vilsack said he worries that it doesn’t “provide help for all children, no matter how well-intentioned.”
“For my part, I don’t understand why the 50 governors aren’t doing (Summer EBT),” he said, “but we’re happy that 35 are, we’re happy that the territories are in and we’re happy that the tribes are still working with us.”