The state of Florida is poised to leave $820 million in federal pandemic food assistance for over 2 million hungry children on the table without immediate action by the Department of Children and Families, caution Florida Policy Institute, Florida Impact, No Kid Hungry, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida and Feeding Tampa Bay.
Second Harvest Food Bank is urging Central Floridians who are upset by the state’s inaction to let Governor Ron DeSantis know by completing an online petition. Each time someone adds their name, an email is sent directly to the Florida Governor and Lt. Governor. The petition calls on Gov. DeSantis “to particpate in the Summer Electronic Benefit Program, or Summer EBT, to provide over 2 million of Florida’s children with the nutritious meals they need to grow and thrive.”
This assistance provides federal funding at no cost to states to provide grocery benefits to children who missed out on free or reduced-price meals while their school or child care facilities were closed during the summer. Summer P-EBT has strong, bipartisan support. Most states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas, have already been approved to use these federal funds to feed hungry children.
Meanwhile, Florida is one of only a handful of states that appears to have made no effort to get the summer program off the ground.
Since summer feeding programs only reach 1 in 5 children who receive free or reduced-price meals at school, Summer P-EBT is a way to ensure that children in participating states do not go hungry while school is out. With summer wrapped up and school now in session, Florida families have already carried much of the burden of meal costs for their children over the summer in the absence of school meals. However, there is still an opportunity to get relief for families: summer P-EBT benefits can be provided retroactively, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is still accepting applications from states to run these vital programs.
“It’s not too late for the state to get these funds to children in families with low income,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Florida Policy Institute. “Although fall is fast approaching, this program would still help families who are playing catch up from the summer due to added food and other pandemic-related costs.”
If Florida accepts available funds, the program would provide families with low income approximately $6.82 a day to spend on a child’s meals or a total of about $375 per child. Benefits from Summer P-EBT can only be used to purchase food.
Florida’s children continue to experience hunger and other hardships exacerbated by the financial impact of the pandemic. In a survey of Florida households conducted by the Census Bureau from June 23, 2021, through July 5, 2021, 14 percent of adults living with children reported that their kids were not eating enough because the household could not afford food. Thirteen percent of renters said that they were not caught up on rent, and 30 percent reported that they were having trouble paying for their household’s usual expenses.
Children of color are disproportionately harmed by delaying Summer P-EBT. Nation-wide, roughly 51 percent of children in Black households, 47 percent in Latino households, and 30 percent in white households live in families that have trouble covering usual living expenses, such as food, housing, car payments, and medical expenses. The end result is that the delay in delivering Summer P-EBT only heightens racial disparities.
The longer Florida waits to submit its plan, the longer families across the state will have to wait for this critical grocery benefit.
“Federal benefits like Summer P-EBT will be essential as our state continues to rebuild from this crisis. Making sure families can afford to buy the food they need when they need it is one of the most efficient, effective ways to prevent kids from going hungry. Those benefits are spent at local grocery stores and markets, funneling dollars directly back into Florida’s economy” said Sky Beard, Director of No Kid Hungry Florida.
“No parent should have to feel the stress of not being able to provide enough food for their children,” said Kim Johnson, CEO of Florida Impact to End Hunger.
Florida still has time to launch Summer P-EBT to feed kids. However, state policymakers must act quickly to implement this critical nutrition program.