Updated Jan 10, 2024 - Politics & Policy

What to know about the USDA's summer food benefits program

Illustration of a peach with a dollar-bill-shaped leaf

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Nearly 21 million children are set to have easier access to food thanks to a permanent summer nutrition program, the USDA announced on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The initiative comes amid food insecurity impacting millions of households in the U.S. and as the summer months can create gaps for kids who rely on nutrition programs during the school year.

  • In 2022, nearly 13% of U.S. households were food insecure during some point in the year, according to the USDA.
  • That figure, which includes 17 million households, had increased from 13.5 million households in 2021.

Details: The Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer program — set to feature 35 states, all five U.S. territories and four tribes this summer — will cover roughly 70% of the program's eligible children, per the USDA.

  • The program is expected to provide an estimated $2.5 billion in grocery benefits.
  • Congress had established Summer EBT as a permanent program in December 2022.

What they're saying: "Summer grocery benefits are becoming a reality for many communities across the nation and for tens of millions of children who will receive the nutrition they need to grow, learn, and thrive," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement on Wednesday.

  • "We applaud all the leaders and partners who are stepping up to make the program's inaugural year a success. Together we're making progress in closing the summer hunger gap and ensuring children are nourished and healthy year-round," Vilsack said.

Here's a brief overview of the program:

Who is eligible to benefit?

  • The USDA said children in households at or below 185% of the federal poverty line are eligible for the program.
  • Eligibility for the summer program is based off of the federal National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program eligibility thresholds, per the USDA.

Why did some states not participate?

  • Some of the states who chose not to participate had "cited existing programs that already feed children during the summer," per AP.
  • Any state who chose not to join this year can opt in for summer 2025.

A spokesperson for the USDA told Axios via email that the department was pleased with the number of participants planning to implement Summer EBT in its inaugural year and that the department recognizes that setting up "a new program in a very short time period is no easy task."

  • "Potential challenges may include making systems changes, identifying sufficient staff, and securing financial resources to cover program administration, particularly their responsibility for covering 50% of the administrative costs associated with operating the program," the spokesperson added.
  • "The Department has been, and will continue, providing extensive assistance, trainings, tools, and more to the states, territories, and tribes that have committed to implementing the program this year, as well as those planning for 2025 and beyond," the spokesperson said.

How much does each recipient get?

  • Families will receive $120 in the summer for each eligible child — $40 per month — to buy food at grocery stores, farmers markets or authorized retailers, per the USDA.
  • "Participating Tribes will provide a benefit of the same amount that can be used to buy food at WIC-authorized retailers," the USDA said.

Go deeper: Millions more students eligible for free school meals

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a USDA statement.

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