Exclusive: How Summer EBT Supports Millions Of Families Facing Food Insecurity

In an effort to combat summer hunger, President Joe Biden recently signed a new law that will provide pre-loaded EBT cards with $120 to 21 million children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. This initiative, known as the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (Summer EBT) program, aims to close the hunger gap that arises when school is out, and children no longer have access to school meals. 

This program provides $40 a month per eligible school-age child to help families purchase groceries, similarly to how SNAP benefits are utilized.

The concept of summer assistance for families began during the pandemic and was met with significant positive feedback. Many parents noted that the additional funds made a substantial difference in stretching their food budgets during the summer months. Following this successful run, Congress passed legislation to make the Summer EBT program permanent.

“Families around the country came together and really demanded, to the federal government, that this program continue. And that worked. President Biden signed the law to make it permanent in 2023. Now, it should be available to every child in the country who qualifies,” Allison Johnson, Program Director at ParentsTogether said. 

Despite the clear benefits of the Summer EBT program, 14 Republican-led states have chosen to opt out of this federal assistance this year. These states include Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Wyoming. This decision has been widely criticized as politically motivated, with significant consequences for children in these states.

For instance, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds justified her decision by stating, “An EBT card does nothing to promote nutrition at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic.” However, Johnson states studies have shown that the program led to children consuming more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, thereby promoting healthier eating habits.

The impact of these decisions on families is profound. Tasha Marshall, a parent from Georgia, shared her experience with the Summer EBT program and the challenges faced when her state opted out. Tasha emphasized how the program allowed her family to afford meat and other nutritious foods, significantly improving their diet during the summer. 

“We struggled a lot. I mean, we did Hamburger Helper with no hamburger, we did spaghetti with no meat. On a very rare occasion, if I could find a sale on meat, it was never very much,” Marshall said. “We would do pork chops with a lot of rice where I would cut the pork chops up, or if someone would give us red meat or something like that, it would be like a pound stretched between a couple boxes of Hamburger Helper or pasta.” 

Marshall also expressed her frustration and anger towards politicians who are disconnected from the realities of struggling families.

“I wish that school lunch programs weren’t political,” Marshall stated. “No child should be functioning on an empty stomach at school simply because the district doesn’t support those programs. These decisions are made by politicians who are so far removed from what poverty even is that they can’t make informed decisions.”

Organizations like ParentsTogether are advocating for all states to participate in the Summer EBT program. Johnson, highlighted the essential role of the program in helping families manage summer food expenses. She noted that while 36 states are participating, the 14 states that opted out are missing out on significant economic benefits that could boost local economies as families spend the funds on groceries.

“Families from across Georgia are coming together and signing our petition, urging the governor to make sure that at least in 2025, this program is available to kids across Georgia. The deadline to get the ball rolling for summer 2025 is coming up in August,” Johnson said. “We have a few months to really pressure the state to accept those federal funds and let the kids of Georgia have that assistance that they’re entitled to.”

The Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program serves as a critical lifeline for millions of families during the summer months. The decision by some states to opt out has left many children without this essential support, highlighting the need for continued advocacy and awareness.

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