Texas Rejects $450 Million Summer Lunch Program for Low-Income Families

This year, a federal nutrition program worth $2.5 billion will be carried out in 35 states to assist low-income parents in purchasing groceries for their children when free school meals are not available during the summer months.

Despite having 3.8 million eligible children for the program, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Texas has chosen not to be part of this nationwide initiative. If Texas had participated, qualifying families would have received $120 per child through a preloaded card for the three summer months, totaling $450 million in federal tax dollars that Texas is forgoing for eligible families.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission explained that they had only six months to implement the new Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer program, which was insufficient time for the state to coordinate and distribute the preloaded cards to qualifying families.

While the summer program would involve multiple agencies, the HHSC would bear the primary responsibility of the program’s implementation, as they would have the task of directing the distribution of the preloaded cards to eligible families.

With the agency already facing challenges in handling the unwinding of Medicaid coverage and the removal of over 2 million Texans from the program, launching a new program like Summer EBT was deemed unfeasible at the moment.

Moreover, the USDA would only cover 50% of the administrative expenses for Summer EBT, leaving the state to cover the remaining costs.

Tiffany Young from the HHSC mentioned ongoing discussions among HHSC, TDA, and TEA regarding their respective roles in implementing Summer EBT.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture initially introduced the summer program through Pandemic EBT during the 2019-2020 school year, benefiting millions of children. Texas is among the 15 states, including Alabama, opting out of the program due to limited time to prepare funding.

For over 3 million Texas children, school lunch serves as their sole complete meal each day, highlighting the prevalence of food insecurity among children in the state.

Sid Miller, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner, acknowledged the disappointment felt by families about Texas’ decision not to participate in the program this year and emphasized the financial challenges faced in providing meals to children.

Every Texan and other organizations supported the Summer EBT program, recognizing the impact on families struggling to afford enough food when schools are closed.

Despite the absence of Summer EBT in Texas, children can still access food assistance through various programs like the expanded Summer Meals Program facilitated by the TDA.

Cooper stressed the importance of Texas joining the Summer EBT program in the future, stating that it remains a critical support for children in need.

It is essential to ensure that children receive the necessary nutrition and support through programs like Summer EBT to address food insecurity.

Disclosure: The Texas Tribune thanks Every Texan and Feeding Texas for their financial support. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit news organization funded by donations from members, foundations, and sponsors, ensuring independent journalism.

This article was originally published on The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/02/22/texas-federal-summer-lunch-program/.

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