Biden administration to provide summer grocery money to 21 million kids. Here’s who qualifies.

A new federal program will provide summer grocery money to 21 million children across 35 states, part of the Biden administration’s goal of making sure students get enough food when they’re not in school and can’t access free or reduced breakfast and lunch. 

The program will be rolled out in 35 states and all five U.S. territories, while four tribes have also opted into the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program, or Summer EBT, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Wednesday.

More families with children experienced food insecurity in 2023 following the expiration of pandemic aid that had helped boost household budgets during the health crisis. The sharp rise in inflation during the past two years, which has made groceries 25% more costly compared with prior to the pandemic, has also caused financial strain for many low- and middle-income families. 

“No child in this country should go hungry,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Associated Press. “They certainly shouldn’t go hungry because they lose access to nutritious school meals during the summer months.”

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.

The Summer EBT program was made permanent in December 2022 by Congress after the USDA had tested it for several years. 

Who is eligible for Summer EBT? 

Families with children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches will be eligible for Summer EBT, which will cover about 70% of the eligible population in its first year.

Reduced-price lunches are available to families with children who earn no more than 185% of the federal poverty line. That threshold stands at $55,500 in annual income, according to the most recent USDA guidelines. 

Free lunches are available to families with children who earn 130% of the federal poverty line. That translates to annual income of about $39,000 for a family of four. 

How much in grocery money will children 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.

How much will the program cost? 

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

Here’s where Summer EBT will be available for kids

The 35 states:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

The U.S. territories:

  • American Samoa
  • Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Guam
  • Puerto Rico
  • U.S. Virgin Islands

The four tribes:

  • Cherokee Nation
  • Chickasaw Nation
  • Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians
  • Osage Nation

Why aren’t all states participating?

Some states chose not to participate this summer, although others are expected to join the program in 2025. The states that won’t offer the extra food aid this summer are: Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming.

The states have different reasons for not participating, with Nebraska, Iowa and Oklahoma citing 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,” he added.

All 50 states already administer the Summer Food Service Program, which provides sites where kids can eat for free. But 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),” Vilsack 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.”

What do the experts say?

Anti-hunger advocates applauded the new program, with the Food Research & Action Center President Luis Guardia saying in a statement that the group was “absolutely thrilled.”

“By implementing the program, states will help ensure that children have a hunger-free summer and return to school well-nourished and ready to learn,” he said.

Cherokee National Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said it was an easy decision for the tribe to join the program.

“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. “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.”

—With reporting by the Associated Press.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *