Reynolds pre-Christmas rejection of summer EBT funds scrutinized


(The Center Square) – Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds called federal funding for summer nutrition programs “not sustainable” and said the federally funded program does not address nutritional needs.

The summer nutrition assistance program, known as Summer EBT, began during the COVID-19 pandemic and gives families $40 a month per eligible child during the summer months. The funds are distributed using an electronic benefits transfer card.

The summer EBT program was permanently approved by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act last year.

Reynolds said another EBT card does not address children’s nutritional needs.

“An EBT card does nothing to promote nutrition at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic,” Reynolds said in a statement issued Friday. “HHS and the Department of Education have well-established programs in place that leverage partnerships with community-based providers and schools who understand the needs of the families they serve. If the Biden administration and Congress want to make a real commitment to family well-being, they should invest in already existing programs and infrastructure at the state level and give us the flexibility to tailor them to our state’s needs.”

The Iowa Hunger Coalition said Reynold’s decision to reject the funding would affect about 240,000 children.

“This is an unconscionable decision,” said Iowa Hunger Coalition board chair Luke Elzinga. “Announcing three days before Christmas that we’ve deliberately chosen not to feed hungry kids? The Dickensian parallels write themselves.”

The Iowa Department of Education is working with community organizations on summer nutrition programs, said McKenzie Snow, director of the Iowa Department of Education. The state provided 1.6 million meals last summer through state programs, according to a news release.

The Iowa Hunger Coalition also criticized comments by Reynolds and Kelly Garcia, director of Iowa Health and Human Services, indicating families could not make their own decisions about children’s nutritional needs.

“We’ve somehow decided that parents know best when it comes to school curriculum but not what to feed their kids?” Elzinga said. “Starvation is not a legitimate strategy to reduce childhood obesity.”

States have until Jan.1 to decide whether to participate in the summer EBT program, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nebraska has also declined to participate in the program, according to reports.

Twenty-eight states, territories and tribal nations confirmed they are participating in the program, USDA said in an email to The Center Square.

“FNS (Food and Nutrition Service) anticipates knowing the full list of participating state, territories and tribes by early 2024,” USDA said.

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