Advocates are pushing to make a temporary pandemic food benefit program for kids on free or reduced-price lunch permanent.
Why it matters: Roughly 15% of kids in NWA are food insecure, according to Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. This has long-term negative effects on their health, including iron deficiency, neurological problems, poorer performance in school and anxiety.
The backdrop: The Pandemic EBT program was created last March to provide families whose kids receive free or reduced lunch with extra money for groceries while schools were closed due to COVID-19.
- President Biden's American Rescue Plan extended the benefits through this summer, when those lunch programs typically take a hiatus.
Now Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families plans to push Congress to make the essentially year-round program permanent, said Laura Kellams, Northwest Arkansas director.
- Kellams says the the debit-like EBT cards issued during the pandemic give families more flexibility to feed their kids, plus don't require them to find transportation to summer feeding programs when school's out.
- Families are also eligible regardless of whether they receive SNAP benefits, which Kellams says is important for reaching immigrant families, including many Marshallese residents in NWA.
Of note: The Arkansas Department of Human Services does not yet have a timeline for when families will receive this summer's benefits, spokesperson Amy Webb told Axios.
- "Last year, it was really hard to get it to everyone who needed it," Kellams said. "We're really concerned and want to make sure families know this is coming in."
- Also, some school districts offer free meals to anyone 18 or younger in various locations through the summer.
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