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Iowa Declines to Take Part in Federal Summer Meal Program for Low-Income Children
The state of Iowa has informed the U.S. Department of Agriculture that it will not be taking part in the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children program in 2024. Instead, the Iowa Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, along with Gov. Kim Reynolds, stated that they will be focusing on enhancing and expanding existing childhood nutrition programs.
The Summer EBT program, also known as Summer EBT, provides families who have children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals with an EBT card. This card allows them to purchase up to $40 worth of food per child each month when school is not in session.
According to Iowa officials, the Summer EBT program does not have a strong focus on nutrition and would cost the state $2.2 million in administrative costs. Gov. Reynolds also linked the program to the federal Pandemic EBT program, stating that cash benefit programs are not sustainable in the long term.
Luke Elzinga, a policy and advocacy manager, expressed disappointment with the state’s decision, especially considering the increasing need for food assistance in Iowa. He emphasized the record-breaking numbers seen at food pantries and food banks during the pandemic.
The state officials highlighted existing programs such as the Summer Food Service Program and the Seamless Summer Option program, which offer food assistance to children and families during the summer. These programs, funded by the USDA and administered by the state Department of Education, include more than 500 meal sites across low-income areas in Iowa.
According to a news release, over 1.6 million meals and snacks were provided to Iowans age 19 and younger last summer. Iowa Department of Education Director McKenzie Snow expressed enthusiasm about expanding partnerships with community groups to support child nutrition during school breaks.
Gov. Reynolds and Iowa HHS Director Kelly Garcia criticized the Summer EBT program for not prioritizing childhood nutrition. Iowa ranks 10th in terms of obesity rates among high school students and has a 15.7% obesity rate for children aged 10 to 17.
Elzinga argued against these criticisms, stating that they reflect a lack of trust in low-income individuals to make healthy food choices. He pointed to a measure introduced during the 2023 legislative session that aimed to restrict SNAP participants from purchasing certain foods, noting that restrictions based on nutrition do not address the affordability of nutritious foods, which is a common barrier for SNAP participants.
While Iowa will not participate in the Summer EBT program in 2024, Elzinga and other hunger advocates plan to prioritize future participation during the 2024 legislative session. They believe that the program, which provides $120 per child, makes a significant difference for families struggling to feed their kids during the summer.