Fourteen Republican Party-led states are denying federal money to feed low-income children during the summer. This is why

(Kenneth Ferriera/Associated Press)

Fourteen Republican Party-led states are denying federal money to feed low-income children during the summer. This is why


February 16, 2024

Lower-income families with school-age children can get help from the federal government to pay for groceries this summer, unless they live in one of the 14 states that said no to participating in the program this year.

The reasons cited for the denials, all from states with Republican governors, include philosophical objections to welfare programs, technical challenges posed by aging computer systems and satisfaction with other summer feeding programs that reach far fewer children.

The impact is hitting people like Otibehia Allen, a single mother of five in Clarksdale, Miss., who makes too much to qualify for some public assistance programs. She could have received $480 in aid over three months this summer if her state had participated.

“It would have helped us a lot, especially with the boys,” Allen said. They are growing children. They eat a lot.

Many states have rejected federal funds on principle or on technical grounds. In 2021, 26 states ended the enhanced unemployment benefits people received during the crisis


pandemic. Twenty-two states have rejected the mostly federally funded expansion of Medicaid eligibility to provide health insurance to more lower-income adults. A dozen of those states have reconsidered and expanded Medicaid.

The Summer EBT program, a response to children’s increased hunger when school is out, requires much less funding. The federal government launched pilots in 2011, expanded them nationally during the pandemic, and then Congress made them permanent in a spending bill passed in December 2022. States must split administrative costs 50/50, and the federal government will fund the benefits, which are expected to cost $2.5 billion this year and help feed 21 million children.



10 million eligible children live in states that have rejected funding.

For each of the three summer months, families with children in free or reduced-price school lunch programs will receive $40 per eligible child on an electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, card. It’s possible




groceries and food from farmers


Family size determines the income limits. A family of three making less than $46,000 qualifies in most of the country.

States had until the end of 2023 to decide whether to join this summer. They can enroll in future years, even if they skip 2024. Vermont plans to do that after a state computer system is replaced.

The spending measure provided some broad outlines a year earlier, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture shared details with states in 2023. But the interim final rules were not published until December. On September 29, timing proved to be problematic, according to some states, when deciding whether to join.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission said the late regulations played a role in the opt-out, along with the need for legislation to authorize funding for the state’s share of administrative costs. Texas lawmakers are not scheduled to meet this year. Spokesman Thomas Vazquez said via email that Texas would consider joining later.

It’s the other way around in Tennessee, which has opted for the lunch program for 2024 but does not plan to continue it in 2025.

Like leaders in other states, Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s office said the initiative is a benefit in the pandemic era and that other food programs already exist.

But the Food Research and Action Center, an advocacy group focused on hunger, has found that the main federally funded summer feeding program is not reaching the most qualified children. During summer 2022, the country was feeding just one in nine children who received free or reduced-price lunch programs nationwide in 2021-2021.


22 school years.

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder said she turned down summer EBT card funds because she wanted to prioritize current summer meal programs, which require minimal state funding.

In general, I prefer meals to go directly to the children, she said. We know this happens at the feeding grounds.

Still, she said summer venues in her rural state need improvement. In 2022, they served approximately 9,400 summer lunches daily, which is just one-fifth of the daily average for free and reduced-price lunches in the 2021-2022 school year. Six of Wyoming’s 23 counties have no locations. And although the federal government began allowing families to take home a week’s worth of meals last year, locations in Wyoming only offered in-person meals.

Wyoming’s share of the administrative costs would have been about $1.1 million this year, and about $690,000 annually going forward.



Republican governors currently lead all the rejecting states, but Louisiana had a Democrat with a week to go when the deadline arrived.

In some places, the rejections have a partisan edge.

In Mississippi, one of the most food-insecure states for children, about 324,000 children, including four from Allen, would be eligible.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves’ office declared it an unnecessarily large government program, saying that if Democrats in Washington DC had their way, “Americans would still be locked down, subject to mandatory vaccinations and masks, and welfare rolls would have exploded.

Allen, who works as a transportation coordinator and planner, believes Reeves’ priorities are misplaced. She pointed to the state’s implementation of an abortion ban in 2022.

Why do you care so much about my uterus and how many babies I have or abortion? Allen said. Why is that a concern if I still have to feed this child, but you won’t help me?

The rejections have led to reactions.

In Nebraska, Republican Gov. Jim Pillen sparked a firestorm of criticism when he justified the rejection of the money by explaining: I don’t believe in welfare.’ But on Monday he changed course and said the state would join the program after a Democratic lawmaker introduced a bill to require participation. He said he was influenced by hearing stories of hunger from high school students.

Lisa Davis, senior vice president of the No Kid Hungry Campaign for Share Our Strength, said she believes all states can be persuaded to join in the coming years.

Child hunger is one of the few issues that brings everyone together, she said.

The remaining holdouts are Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming.

Officials in Iowa’s two most populous counties are asking for the state’s rejected funds anyway, even though the program does not include an option to fund local governments instead of states.

In Iowa’s rejection, Gov. Kim Reynolds said it’s not a long-term solution.

“An EBT card does nothing to promote nutrition at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic,” the Republican said in a statement.

But Crystal FitzSimons, director of school programs at the Food Research and Action Center, cited research that families buy more nutritional foods as their grocery subsidies increase.

It’s a missed opportunity when children go hungry, she said.

Mattise reported from Nashville and Mulvihill from Cherry Hill, N.J. Associated Press reporters Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City and James Pollard in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.


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