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13 GOP-Led States Refuse to Implement Summer EBT Program

The program allots an additional supplement of $120 per qualifying child over the summer.

Thirteen states controlled by Republican governors are refusing to take part in a federal summertime food program that aims to provide supplemental income for groceries to families with children who have limited or no access to free or reduced-price lunches while they’re out of school.

Summer EBT, also known as SUN Bucks, is similar to a pandemic-era program that helped feed millions of families with lower incomes. Although smaller in scope than its predecessor, Summer EBT is still expected to help feed about 20 million kids this upcoming summer.

Families are eligible for Summer EBT if they’re already participating in programs like SNAP, FDPIR, or TANF, or if there is a child in the household who attends a school offering the National School Lunch or School Breakfast Program and the family meets the financial requirements for free or reduced-price meals.

Congress approved the program in 2022, when Democrats were still in power in both houses of the federal legislature, and President Joe Biden signed it into law shortly after.

The program provides each qualifying household with $40 per month for every qualifying child in supplemental EBT dollars. A household with two qualifying children, for instance, would receive $240 in extra grocery money over the course of the summer.

However, 13 states are refusing to accept federal funding for Summer EBT and will not be offering the program to its qualifying residents. All of those states are led by Republican governors, who have offered varying excuses for not accepting the funds that are ready to be doled out.

In many cases, these governors’ actions are consistent, though still cruel: Many of the states who are refusing to run the program have also refused to expand Medicaid following the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

States refusing to implement Summer EBT include Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, Mississippi, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. (Although the state itself is refusing to do so, Native American tribes in Oklahoma are planning to implement the program themselves.)

According to reporting from The New Republic, governors’ excuses for backing out do not stand up to scrutiny, and their opposition to the program appears to be rooted mainly in politics.

Some, like Mississippi GOP Gov. Tate Reeves’s office, have offered conspiratorial excuses for opposing Summer EBT, calling the program an attempt to “expand the welfare state.” Others, like Iowa GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, have cynically asserted that the program will allow families to buy junk food for their children.

“An EBT card does nothing to promote nutrition at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic,” Reynolds said in December.

Republicans have long used that argument to demand changes to SNAP and similar programs. But researchers have noted that restricting the foods people can buy using federal EBT programs only hinders the ability of qualifying individuals and families to shop for food, as proposals set forth by Republicans would be difficult to implement, and would increase burdens on grocery stores, particularly smaller markets.

Reynolds is also wrong about health outcomes relating to SNAP — indeed, a review of studies conducted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that recipients of the program actually have better health outcomes than those living without it.

“SNAP improves food security, offers benefits that enable families to purchase healthier diets, and frees up resources that can be used for health-promoting activities and needed medical care,” that review noted.

Reynolds’s complaints are hypocritical given that, during her condemnation of Biden’s State of the Union speech in 2022, she discussed the “pain” of having previously worked at a grocery store and seeing how inflation hurt families coming to her check-out line.

Partly because of these governors’ actions, food pantries and other nongovernmental programs are becoming overwhelmed with demand now that children are home from school for the summer.

“The summer has always put additional burdens on families struggling with food insecurity, but this year will almost inevitably push households that are already struggling to their limits,” said Matt Unger, CEO of the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC), which manages 14 food pantry sites near the state’s capital.

The food pantries recently set a new daily record, assisting 2,080 families last Tuesday. Unger noted that the supplemental mealtime program that Reynolds refuses to implement could have helped those families even more.

“Imagine what an extra $40 a month for food could mean for your family,” Unger told The Iowa Starting Line. “For those that are most in need, right now, this new program [SUN Bucks] would have been a lifeline.”

“People are certainly being left behind when we are seeing [these kinds of numbers] happen in June,” Unger added.

Other states’ programs are also feeling the crunch. Summer meal programs for families with low-incomes “can only provide a meal and a snack or two meals a day,” said Kelsey Boone with the Food Research and Action Center, speaking to Georgia Public Broadcasting about the matter. “Summer EBT is a complement to summer meals.”

“When you take that money away, it significantly impacts families, particularly in this time where food inflation is so high and we’re still feeling the effects of the pandemic,” Boone added.

“For years, we’ve argued that, yes, we’re happy to do this, but we do not think this is the best solution,” Brian Greene, CEO of the Houston Food Bank, told The New Republic. “The best solution is for those families just to be able to buy the food they need less expensively at supermarkets.”

Food banks are “not meeting the need to begin with,” Greene went on, adding that the growing strain on them is only going to make matters worse.

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