UNITED STATES NEWS

USDA estimates 21 million kids will get summer food benefits through new program in 2024

Jan 9, 2024, 3:37 PM

Nearly 21 million children in the U.S. and its territories are expected to receive food benefits this summer through a newly permanent federal program, the United States Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday.

Thirty-five states, all five U.S. territories and four tribes opted into the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program, or Summer EBT, which the government says is meant to supplement existing programs during the summer that have had a more limited reach.

“No child in this country should go hungry,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said 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 the USDA had tested it for several years. The states that chose not to opt in for this summer will have a chance to join for summer 2025, the USDA said.

Who is eligible for Summer EBT?

Families with children who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches (that is, families who are at or under 185% of the federal poverty line) will be eligible for Summer EBT, which will cover about 70% of the eligible population in its first year.

In an October report, the USDA said an estimated 17 million households in the U.S. reported problems finding enough food in 2022. That was up from 13.5 million in 2021, when there was more pandemic-era federal food aid.

How much do families get?

Eligible families will receive $40 per month per child during the summer — a total of $120 per child. The money will be loaded on an EBT card, which can be used at stores that also take Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

The USDA estimates it will provide a total of $2.5 billion in grocery benefits in 2024 through the Summer EBT program.

Who opted in?

The Cherokee Nation is one of the four tribes that’ll be a part of the inaugural summer. Cherokee National Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said it was an easy decision.

“I think we’re seeing a lot of pressures on households in terms of rent or other housing costs, all of that hitting very finite household budgets,” he said, adding, “ … This puts a dent in that overall problem by empowering parents to just simply be able to go out and purchase more food and some healthy options that are available.”

The Cherokee Nation has its headquarters in Tahlequah, Oklahoma — a state that opted out of 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 not to join Summer EBT.

Implementing a Summer EBT program this year was “not feasible” in Texas, state Health and Human Services Commission spokesperson Thomas Vasquez said in a statement to the AP. He said that was due to USDA guidance coming in late December, ”the level of effort needed” to start a new program and the need for the state legislature to approve money for it.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said in a statement that he doesn’t want “a single Oklahoma child to go hungry, and I’ll keep working to accomplish that, but large, duplicative federal programs don’t accomplish that goal.

“They cause more bureaucracy for families to wade through.”

What other federal summer food programs are available?

All 50 states already administer the Summer Food Service Program, which provides sites where kids can eat for free. Vilsack said he’s worried it doesn’t “provide the help for all the children, no matter how well-intentioned it is.”

“For the life of me I don’t see why 50 governors aren’t doing (Summer EBT),” he said, “but we’re happy that 35 are, we’re happy that territories are in and we’re happy that the tribes are continuing to work with us.”

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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USDA estimates 21 million kids will get summer food benefits through new program in 2024