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Iowa, Nebraska won't participate in U.S. food assistance program for kids this summer

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during an interview with The Associated Press on Nov. 8, in Des Moines. Iowa will not participate this summer in a federal program that gives $40 per month to each child in a low-income family to help with food costs while school is out.
Charlie Neibergall
/
AP
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during an interview with The Associated Press on Nov. 8, in Des Moines. Iowa will not participate this summer in a federal program that gives $40 per month to each child in a low-income family to help with food costs while school is out.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa will not participate this summer in a federal program that gives $40 per month to each child in a low-income family to help with food costs while school is out, state officials have announced.

The state has notified the U.S. Department of Agriculture that it will not participate in the 2024 Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children — or Summer EBT — program, the state's Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Education said in a Friday news release.

"Federal COVID-era cash benefit programs are not sustainable and don't provide long-term solutions for the issues impacting children and families. An EBT card does nothing to promote nutrition at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic," Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said in the news release.

She added, "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."

States that participate in the federal program are required to cover half of the administrative costs, which would cost an estimated $2.2 million in Iowa, the news release says.

Some state lawmakers, including Democratic Sen. Izaah Knox of Des Moines, quickly voiced their opposition to the decision.

"It's extremely disappointing that the Reynolds administration is planning to reject federal money that could put food on the table for hungry Iowa kids," Knox said in a statement. "This cruel and short-sighted decision will have real impacts on children and families in my district and communities all across Iowa."

Officials in nearby Nebraska also announced this week that the state will not participate in Summer EBT, which would cost Nebraska about $300,000 annually in administrative costs, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

"In the end, I fundamentally believe that we solve the problem, and I don't believe in welfare," Nebraska Republican Gov. Jim Pillen told the Journal Star on Friday.

But Nebraska will continue participating in a different federal program, called the Summer Food Service Program, which combines programming — like reading, physical activity and nutrition education — with food assistance, according to the Journal Star.

"We just want to make sure that they're out. They're at church camps. They're at schools. They're at 4-H. And we'll take care of them at all of the places that they're at, so that they're out amongst (other people) and not feeding a welfare system with food at home," Pillen said.

A bipartisan group of Nebraska lawmakers have urged the state to reconsider, saying Summer EBT would address the needs of vulnerable children and benefit the state economically, the Journal Star reported.

At least 18 states and territories and two tribal nations — Cherokee Nation and Chickasaw Nation — have announced they intend to participate in Summer EBT in 2024, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The list includes Arizona, California, Kansas, Minnesota, West Virginia, American Samoa and Guam, among others.

States, territories and eligible tribal nations have until Jan. 1 to notify the Department of Agriculture of their intent to participate in the program this summer.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
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