by Nigar Suleman, WSPTA Federal Legislative Committee, and Susan Baird-Joshi, WSPTA Federal Legislative Chair
Due to the Public Health Emergency expiring, 2023 was the last year for Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) food benefits. Now, thanks to new federal funding initiatives, benefits that aim to reduce child hunger when school is not in session will be available starting this summer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the State of Washington has opted to participate. WSPTA encourages our members to contact their lawmakers in Olympia and ask them to approve matching state funding required to make this program available to Washington state children and youth.
The Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer program, known as Summer EBT, will provide families with $120 per eligible child over the summer to buy food at grocery stores, farmers markets, or other authorized retailers. Congress established the permanent Summer EBT as part of the fiscal year 2023 federal government funding package. Children who qualify for the free and reduced-price school meals program are also eligible for the initiative.
The federal government provides 100 percent of the funding for the food benefit plus half of a participating state’s program administrative costs. The State of Washington must pay for the other half of our state’s program administrative costs.
According to Washington State’s Office of Financial Management, “This funding will increase food security for roughly 800,000 children in Washington during the three-month summer break each year.”
For many eligible kids in Washington, summer learning loss can be addressed by widening and facilitating access to healthy and regular nutrition and setting students up for a smooth back-to-school transition. Some $2.5 billion in grocery benefits are expected to be distributed nationwide under the Summer EBT program, but the responsibility to apply for these benefits lies with individual states.
The program has been shown to work since the USDA launched the Summer EBT pilot after Congress authorized it to test ways to reduce food insecurity during summer vacation. By 2018, around 300,000 children in eight states were being served, according to Crystal FitzSimons, Director of School Programs at the Food Research & Action Center in Washington, D.C.
To take part in the USDA summer meals programs, the State of Washington must approve state administrative funds. Lawmakers in Olympia are deliberating on this and other budget items during the current legislative session. We, at Washington State PTA encourage our members to contact your state Senator and Representatives and ask them to vote to include funding to launch Summer EBT in 2024.