In a critical decision, Texas has chosen not to participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer Program (Summer EBT), a move that could leave millions of children without much-needed nutrition during the summer break. While the program is set to roll out in 35 states, all five territories, and four tribes, Texas, along with several other states, has opted out, sparking concerns about increased demand on food banks and the potential consequences for struggling families.
The Summer EBT program aims to provide families with $120 per eligible child for the summer to purchase food at grocery stores, farmers markets, or other authorized retailers. The initiative is designed to address the spike in child hunger during the summer months when they are out of school and may lose access to free school meals.
Eric Cooper, CEO and President of the San Antonio Food Bank, expressed deep concern about Texas’s decision, emphasizing the potential impact on local food banks. He stated, “Not to run that program means that the demand for food at the food banks will continue to be high when this resource just sits on the shelf. We are literally leaving food on the table in Texas by not running this program.”
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In response to the criticism, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) released a statement outlining the challenges in implementing the Summer EBT program in the state. The statement cited the need for coordination between various state agencies, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) agency, Child Nutrition agency, and the education agency. The HHSC acknowledged discussions about the program’s implementation but cited factors such as receiving Interim Final Rules late in 2023, resource constraints, the level of effort needed, and the requirement for new appropriations from the Legislature as impediments to launching the program successfully in 2024.
Rachel Cooper, the director of Health & Food Justice for Every Texan, expressed disappointment over the state’s decision. She highlighted the severity of child hunger in Texas during the summer, pointing out that millions of children lose access to free school meals, compounded by high grocery prices that strain family budgets. Cooper stated, “We are deeply disappointed that Texas will not be participating in the Summer EBT program this year as it would have helped families buy enough food to make up for those missed school meals.”
Cooper emphasized the significant economic impact the program could have, injecting roughly half a billion dollars into the state’s economy. Advocates like Cooper are urging Texas officials to commit to operating the Summer EBT program in 2025 to address the ongoing issue of child hunger during the summer break.
KSAT reached out to major San Antonio school districts, including Northside, North East, and San Antonio Independent School Districts. School officials assured that meals would be available for students during the summer. Additionally, the San Antonio Food Bank pledged to provide food to children during the summer months.
In a creative proposal, Cooper suggested an alternative approach, stating, “If there was a way we can get this benefit or use the benefit in a different way, maybe we will purchase the food and distribute it through food banks. There’s a way to get the support to families.”
As Texas grapples with the decision to opt out of the Summer EBT program, the consequences for children’s nutrition and the strain on food banks underscore the challenges in addressing food insecurity during the crucial summer period. Advocates continue to call for a reconsideration of the state’s decision, emphasizing the program’s potential to make a positive impact on the lives of millions of children in Texas.