DHR to provide summer food assistance to children with SNAP benefits
Program aims to help low-income families afford food for children during summer
Store employees work to stock shelves at a ShopRite supermarket on April 13, 2020 in Plainview, New York. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) plans to dispense food assistance to over half a million children who receive free or reduced-price school meals through the National School Lunch Program.
The benefits will come through the Summer Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program.
“Every dollar of support from programs like P-EBT strengthens their spending power and weakens the prospect of hunger, while promoting nutritious meals for children,” DHR commissioner Nancy Buckner said in a recent press release.
Qualifying households will receive $120 for each participating student to buy food eligible under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at stores that accept EBT cards. The benefits are expected to start rolling out in mid-to-late summer.
How to apply for summer benefits
To become eligible for Summer P-EBT, families may apply for the National School Lunch Program by contacting their schools. Applications for the lunch program must be approved by May 16 to qualify for Summer P-EBT benefits.
The program is aimed at assisting low-income families who struggle to afford food for their children during the summer months, said Carol Gundlach, senior policy analyst at Alabama Arise, and is meant to replace the school meals during the summer.
This program is “really tremendously valuable” because many children rely on school breakfast and school lunch for two of their three meals a day, she said, and child hunger rates increase during summer months. The Summer P-EBT helped cushion that loss of school meals.
“Particularly in rural parts of the state, it’s really hard for them to get to a place where they can get a meal during the summer,” Gundlach said.
Rhonda Mann, executive director for VOICES for Alabama Children, said that children in school have access to nutritious foods that help meet a well-rounded diet. But because this is a limited amount of money, families may have to stretch it.
“A lot of times they’re able to take home food for the weekend, but during the summer, when they’re not in school, having enough food to have an active lifestyle for every member in the family is a concern,” she said.
According to the 2021 Alabama Kids Count book, an annual report on children’s well-being from VOICES, 20% of children under 18 face food insecurity and live in households that are food insecure. The Kids Count book defines food insecurity as not having enough food for the household to keep a healthy, active lifestyle. It may also mean that adults make trade-offs, such as skipping meals to ensure the children are fed.
Families with eligible students who received P-EBT benefits previously will access Summer P-EBT benefits on their existing EBT cards. Those who are new to the National School Lunch Program will receive EBT cards in the mail. All recipients should keep their EBT cards in case additional benefits are added in the future.
DHR oversees the distribution of P-EBT benefits with assistance from the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE). The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service administers the program at the federal level.
Gundlach said that DHR and ALSDE should be recognized for their work in getting this “complicated, difficult program” to Alabama. All 50 states can submit a plan for the program, but only 11 states and U.S. territory Northern Mariana Islands were approved for the extra summer benefits.
Dominic Binkley, communications director for DHR, said that September 30 is the federal deadline for states to issue Summer P-EBT these benefits to eligible recipients, but that they expect to issue the benefits well before the federal deadline.
Starting in 2024, the Summer P-EBT will permanently become the Summer EBT and will be available to all 50 states and Tribal Organizations as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023.
Mann said that many families received additional funding during the pandemic, and she thinks that our numbers are going to show a reduction in child poverty.
“However, my question is, will it hold?” she asked. “Is that reduction actually a real reduction, or is it all the federal dollars coming in? These programs that helped support families and children – is that giving us a false sense of things improving?”
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