Customers shop at a grocery store in Mount Prospect, Ill., Friday, April 1, 2022. | Nam Y. Huh, APCustomers shop at a grocery store in Mount Prospect, Ill., Friday, April 1, 2022. | Nam Y. Huh, AP
Customers shop at a grocery store in Mount Prospect, Ill., Friday, April 1, 2022. | Nam Y. Huh, AP

Florida opts out of about $250 million in food aid

Published on January 8, 2024 at 10:54 am

Florida has opted out of a new federal program that’s designed to help low-income parents pay for groceries over the summer.

The Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer Program for Children is a new form of federal food assistance that will offer pre-loaded cards to help low-income parents afford groceries during June, July and August.

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Beginning in the summer of 2024, eligible families in states and territories that participate in the program will receive $40 per month for every child in the household, according to the USDA website.

The deadline for states and territories to opt into the program was Jan. 1. Congress officially approved the program in December.

When Florida failed to apply for the program, it turned down over $250M in nutritional aid, according to the Florida Policy Institute.

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Mallory McManus with the Florida Department of Children and Families, which administers SNAP benefits in the state, responded to the state’s decision to decline the additional food assistance.

“We anticipate that our state’s full approach to serving children will continue to be successful this year without any additional federal programs that inherently always come with some federal strings attached,” she wrote in an emailed response.

She said the state already relies on a patchwork of government programs, like SNAP and summer break spots, that have been “remarkably successful” over the past decade.

It’s estimated the new federal nutrition program would have helped feed more than 2 million children in Florida and spur up to $466 million in economic activity this year, according to the statement.

A senior policy analyst at the institute, Cindy Huddleston, said she was baffled by the state’s inaction.

“We were pretty confident that the state was going to roll out the program, so this did hit us hard and surprised us,” she said.

Thirty-nine states and territories opted into the program by the Jan. 1 deadline, according to the USDA’s program website.

Huddleston said the now-permanent Summer EBT program grew out of a temporary, pandemic-era program called Summer P-EBT. She said the program was also backed by a USDA pilot study that found Summer EBT benefits reduced food insecurity and improved nutrition among children in the areas studied.

Unlike Summer P-EBT, however, states participating in the new program will incur some administrative expenses. States must cover half of the cost to administer the funds provided by the federal government, according to USDA guidance.

Huddleston said this minor cost could be why the state decided to forego the federal aid altogether.

“It doesn’t seem it would be that heavy of a lift for the state to put this out, especially considering the fact that … so many children are going hungry, grocery costs are still on the increase in Florida and the amount of money that would come into the state,” Huddleston said.

It’s not the first time Florida has resisted participation in federal food benefits programs. In 2021, the DeSantis administration was criticized for initially declining more than $800 million in Summer P-EBT food aid funds.

Florida director of No Kid Hungry, Sky Beard, called the state’s most recent decision “incredibly disappointing.”

“More than three-quarters of Floridians reported it was harder to buy food this year than last, due to the increasing costs of food and other essentials,” she wrote in a statement.

Florida’s lack of participation in 2024 doesn’t preclude the state from participating in the Summer EBT program in the future.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She’s also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

Copyright 2024 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.

author image Gabriella Paul tells stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. She is also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Gabriella got her start in radio at WUFT in Gainesville, where she worked as a digital producer and taught digital production at the University of Florida. She graduated from UF with a degree in journalism and a minor in history. While there, she spent many hours in the archives and was later asked to co-author a presidential task force report on the university’s founding and racial legacies.

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