Respect Poverty

42 states and territories will provide summer food benefits for children out of school

“Our hope is that all states will adopt the program, ensuring that all children have access to the healthy food they need and deserve,” said Cindy Long, administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.
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Story at a glance

  • The federal government announced a summer nutrition benefit program to help low-income families. 

  • Under Summer P-EBT, eligible families will get free or reduced price meals after their children’s school year.

  • There are 42 states participating in the program, which is valid up to 90 days following a school year. 

The federal government wants to help families combat inflation by providing temporary nutrition benefits to about 32 million children through a new summer program. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a temporary electronic benefit transfer, commonly known as EBT, called Summer P-EBT that will give eligible families free or reduced-price meals or to those that have a child under the age of six that lives in a household receiving supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) benefits.  

Benefits will be loaded onto a debit-type card that can be used to purchase food — with families of eligible children typically receiving $391 per child. Families in Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. territories have higher rates. 

The benefit will be available in 42 states and territories and will provide an estimated $12.5 billion in temporary nutrition benefits. Alabama, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana and North Carolina are among the states participating. 

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“Providing children with the food and nutrition they need to live healthy lives is a year-round mission, and we are proud to partner with many states and territories to provide food-buying benefits for this summer,” said Cindy Long, administrator of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service.  

“Our hope is that all states will adopt the program, ensuring that all children have access to the healthy food they need and deserve.” 

Summer P-EBT will only be valid up to 90 calendar days following a school year, a benefit available under a public health emergency declaration. 

States need to provide an approved school year or childcare plan for the 2021-2022 academic year in order to be eligible to provide Summer P-EBT. 

USDA already provides low-cost or free lunches to children in nearly 100,000 public and nonprofit private schools starting from kindergarten through 12th grade through its National School Lunch Program. In 2019, USDA provided 4.9 billion lunches at a total cost of $14.2 billion. 

The need for food increased drastically during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, as students who relied on meals through their school suddenly lost that benefit. USDA responded by creating a pandemic EBT program that reimbursed families with children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals for the value of school meals missed because of pandemic-related school disruptions.  

USDA’s effort to provide families with some financial relief comes as Congress failed to extend the expanded child tax credit that lapsed late last year. An analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that some 91 percent of families with low incomes used their tax credit on basic household expenses — including food, clothing, shelter and utilities. 

About 10 percent of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2020, which USDA defines as households that were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their family members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.  

Household food insecurity affected about 15 percent of households with children in 2020.