The States Keeping Their Children Hungry

Millions of children could go hungry this summer in states that have refused to take part in a multi-billion dollar plan to help disadvantaged kids.

In 2023, all U.S. states were offered the choice of whether to opt-in to the summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program run by the federal government. The program gives additional funding to states taking part that will help children from low or no-income families.

Those eligible will receive an additional $40 per month, a total of $120 per child, to pay for groceries when school is out for the summer this year. The program, which was approved by Congress with bipartisan support, is expected to cost the federal government $2.5 billion.

The program is a full-scale implementation of plans introduced throughout the coronavirus era. “The experience of the pandemic showed us that when government invests in meaningful support for families, we can make a positive impact on food security, even during challenging economic times,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Of the 35 states that opted to participate, 23 are led by Democratic governors and 12 are led by Republican governors. All states that declined the opportunity are led by Republican governors. The deadline for states to confirm their participation in the program was January 1.

The states that declined to take part in 2024 are Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming.

On the January 1 deadline, Louisiana was run by Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, who stood down from his post over the new year. The Louisiana governor is now Republican Jeff Landry.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 12.8 percent of all U.S. households were food insecure in 2022, amounting to 17 million households altogether. Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as when a household has difficulty providing enough food for family members due to a lack of resources.

Feeding America, one of the country’s leading charities combating hunger and poverty told Newsweek that summer EBT will help feed around 20 million children over the summer months.

“This new program could not be starting at a better time. In 2022, more than 13 million children in the U.S.—1 in 5—were living in food-insecure households,” Vince Hall, Feeding America’s Chief Government Relations Officer, told Newsweek. “This is a 44 percent increase from the prior year and the highest rate of child food insecurity since 2014.”

The summer EBT program comes at a time when food insecurity among families with children is on the rise. Of those households who suffered from food insecurity in 2022, the USDA found that 3.3 million of them have children—up by one million from the year prior.

“It’s sad,” Vilsack said, according to The Washington Post. “There isn’t really a political reason for not doing this. This is unfortunate. I think governors may not have taken the time or made the effort to understand what this program is and what it isn’t.”

Why Have Some States Opted Out?

The opted-out states have given a variety of different reasons for declining the food assistance program. Some have voiced opposition due to administrative costs. The federal government will pay the whole cost of the benefits and half the administrative costs.

Other state leaders have cited a lack of desire to continue with pandemic-era aid. Some have expressed that they don’t have faith in the federal government to administer the program.

The states that will not participate in the summer EBT have faced criticism over their decision. Some, like Iowa and Nebraska, already have their own state-run benefits programs for those struggling with the means to put food on the table for their children. But poverty experts and advocacy groups have laid the blame on political beliefs.

South Carolina is one of 15 states proudly rejecting new federal funding from the USDA that would help feed hungry children over the summer,” Dr. Annie Andrews, CEO of Their Future, Our Vote, told Newsweek.

She said the choice for Alabama and other Republican states to decline the program is “politics at its very worst” and is being used to score “partisan political points.”

South Carolina, according to the USDA, has an overall child poverty rate of 19.7 percent. In some counties, this rate goes as high as 39.5 percent, over a third of all children in the area, according to the most recently available data from 2021.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said in a press conference last month: “That was a COVID-related benefit. We’ve got to get back to doing normal business. We just can’t continue that forever, but we’re still continuing all the other programs that we have.”

Newsweek reached out to McMaster via email for comment.

“This is not the time to make an argument about the need for smaller government, especially considering that South Carolina has no problem growing the government if it means they can tell a woman what to do with her body or tell the parents of a transgender kid that lawmakers know better than they do what is best for their kid. Kids are being harmed by these cynical political games,” Andrews said.

Iowa Republican Governor Kim Reynolds called out the Biden administration in her reasoning for declining summer EBT.

“If the Biden administration and Congress want to make a real commitment to family well-being, they should invest in already existing programs and infrastructure at the state level and give us the flexibility to tailor them to our state’s needs,” she said in a statement released in December.

In the same release, the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services said that Iowans can use food banks and charities if they are struggling for food.

“Six regional food banks and 1,200 non-profit organizations, including food pantries and meal sites, also provide food assistance and childhood nutrition programs across all 99 counties in Iowa,” the release reads. Iowa has a child poverty rate of 12.4 percent, according to the USDA’s 2021 data.

Newsweek reached out to Reynolds via phone call for comment.

Nebraska Republican Governor Jim Pillen, without directly mentioning his party’s political opponents, cited a traditional GOP viewpoint that welfare should not be a cornerstone of income for families.

“Nebraska is committed to helping kids and families in need. Our programs are focused on more than simply providing food. They offer a hand up, not a handout,” Pillen said in a statement last month.

Nebraska already has its own food aid programs in place, including plans for women and infants as well as the Nebraska Commodity Food Supplemental Program. As of 2021, the child poverty rate in Nebraska is 12.1 percent, per the USDA.

Newsweek reached out to Pillen’s team for comment via email.

Even though the January 1 deadline for opting in is long gone, state senators in Nebraska are trying to force the state government’s hand by putting through a bill that would require the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services would be required to join the summer EBT program. The Nebraska Examiner reported in January that there is bipartisan support for the bill, indicating that not all Republicans agree with Pillen’s decision to keep the state out of the program.

Other Republican states that have opted in for summer 2024 have already expressed that they are unlikely to continue with the program. Tennessee has said it will only participate for one year, with a spokesperson for Republican Governor Bill Lee saying that the state will then return to “utilizing preexisting programs to meet the nutritional needs of children during summer months,” The Independent reported.

“Established during the pandemic, Summer EBT was intended to supplement existing food assistance programs in extraordinary circumstances. We do not intend to enroll in future years,” the spokesperson said.

Newsweek reached out to Lee’s team via email for comment.

Oklahoma, which is in the top ten for highest child poverty rates in the U.S. (20.5 percent), did not sign up for the program. However, tribal nations within the state opted in. According to the Food Research and Action Center, approximately 403,000 would stand to benefit from summer EBT in the state if it were implemented.

Republican Governor Kevin Stitt said the state will not join due to a lack of clarity over rules that have not yet been finalized by the Biden administration.

“I think you need to ask the feds why they are wanting everyone to opt in before they even finalized the program,” Stitt told reporters in January. He also said he is “satisfied” with current programs in the state.

Newsweek reached out to Stitt for comment via the contact form on his website.

Missouri, which has also expressed concerns over the government’s handling of EBT, has opted in—but not without sending a non-binding letter of intent. Officials in the state wrote that a lack of final guidance from the USDA “poses potential unforeseen challenges to the implementation of this new program for the 2024 summer.”

Not all Republicans hold the same line, however. Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders said summer EBT is “an important new tool to give Arkansas children the food and nutrition they need.” Her state is confirmed to be taking part in the program this year.

Are you in a state that has declined summer EBT and have children who qualify for the assistance? Get in touch with [email protected] to share your opinion.

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

The post The States Keeping Their Children Hungry appeared first on Newsweek.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top