In early January, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it would be expanding food benefits programs this summer in an effort to provide children nutritious meals even when school is out. Nearly 21 million children in the U.S. and its territories are expected to receive such benefits through the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program, or Summer EBT.
Families with children who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches will be eligible for Summer EBT. The benefits will come in the form of pre-loaded cards that families can use to purchase groceries. Beginning in summer 2024, families will receive $40 per eligible child. Summer EBT benefits will work in tandem with other federal nutrition assistance programs — including summer meal sites, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) — to boost children’s access to healthy foods year round.
A USDA report, published in October, found “statistically significant” increases in food insecurity nationwide due to expiring pandemic-related government air coupled with rising food costs. Roughly 17 million households reported problems affording enough food in 2022 — compared to 13.5 million households in 2021 and 13.8 million households in 2020.
Thirty-five states, all five U.S. territories and four tribes opted into Summer EBT, per the Associated Press. Fifteen states — all Republican-governed — chose not to opt in for this summer, citing cost and existing programs that already feed children during the summer. They will have a chance to join for summer 2025, the USDA said.
Here’s a closer look at all the states that will not participate in Summer EBT, and why:
State officials said changes to federal funding and bad timing would prevent the program from being set up in time.
“Unfortunately, the federal government has now cut funding for administering the program by 50% and issued guidance after our legislative session ended,” Deputy Communications Director Mike Lewis wrote to AL.com, “thereby eliminating the potential for securing state funds to continue administering these limited additional benefits.”
Alabama is reportedly considering whether to participate in 2025, but the total cost to administer the program (an estimated $10 million) has not been determined yet.
The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (DEED), which operated the pandemic-era EBT program during its first year, will not apply for the new Summer EBT program because the administrative requirements “greatly exceeds the benefit that would be issued to children.”
“The cost and administrative requirement to create a new EBT issuance program either with DEED or in coordination with a partner agency greatly exceeds the benefit that would be issued to children,” a legislative liaison for the department wrote in an email to Juneau Empire. “DEED is currently pursuing other avenues to increase (availability) of nutritious foods to children during the summer months through the Summer Food Service Program. Alaska remains open to the option to pursue Summer EBT in future years should it become more feasible to implement.”
The decision, announced in December, comes as state officials struggle to clear out a lengthy backlog of food stamp applications that has kept thousands of Alaskans waiting months for benefits.
The Florida Department of Children and Families said it wouldn’t be pursuing the funding for Summer EBT: “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,” a spokesperson for the department wrote in an email to Governing.
The Summer EBT program for 2024 would serve approximately 2.2 million children and deliver an estimated $259 million in nutrition aid, if the state were to apply. Florida previously opted out of Summer Pandemic-EBT before changing its decision in 2021 following pressure from stakeholders across the state.
State leaders cited existing state-administered programs that already feed children during the summer including Seamless Summer and Happy Helpings. A statement from Gov. Brian Kemp’s office said the state “remains focused on well-established and effective programs that are tailored to address our state's specific needs by providing necessary nutrition and engagement to families and kids.”
“Unlike the many successful programs Georgia already has in place, the most notable being GaDOE's Seamless Summer Option, which alone provided millions of breakfast and lunch meals to students statewide last year, this federal Covid-era EBT program not only lacks basic nutritional requirements and sustainability but fails to address the mission of improving the health and wellness of our children,” a spokesperson for the governor told Georgia’s WXIA-TV via email.
Despite Idaho’s decision to opt out of Summer EBT in 2024, Gov. Brad Little has supported the program, asking the state legislature for an estimated $1 million in state funds required to administer it. Even if lawmakers approved that spending, the state funding wouldn’t begin until Idaho’s fiscal year starts July 1. Idaho may be able to participate in Summer EBT for the summer of 2025, but a decision hasn’t been made at this time.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a news release that an EBT card “does nothing to promote nutrition at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic.”
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.”
Participating in Summer EBT would cost Iowa about $2.2 million, the Associated Press reported.
Reynolds’ decision was met with opposition from some state lawmakers. Democratic Sen. Izaah Knox of Des Moines said the “cruel and short-sighted decision will have real impacts on children and families in my district and communities all across Iowa.”
State officials said Louisiana missed the Jan. 1 deadline to opt in Summer EBT benefits due to the recent changeover in administrations. Former Gov. John Bel Edwards was succeeded by Gov. Jeff Landry, who officially took office on Jan. 8. A statement from the Louisiana Department of Education said it was “improper to commit Governor Landry and a new legislature to millions of dollars in increased spending toward a new government program.”
Local stakeholders have urged officials to reconsider participating in Summer EBT, noting federal enrollment requirements are less difficult in the first year. Roughly one in four children in the state live in poverty, compared to 17% nationally.
The Mississippi Department of Human Services, which oversees SNAP, informed the Mississippi Department of Education that it does not have the personnel to manage the Summer EBT program.
“Mississippi declined to participate at the direction of Governor Reeves because it was originally intended to be a temporary pandemic-era program,” Gov. Tate Reeves’ press secretary told Mississippi Clarion Ledger.
Reeves added that he decided against participating in Summer EBT to protect Mississippi from "attempts to expand the welfare state."
Officials said Nebraska will not participate in Summer EBT, which would cost the state roughly $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 Gov. Jim Pillen told the outlet. Nebraska, however, will continue taking part in a different federal program, called the Summer Food Service Program, which combines programming — like reading, physical activity and nutrition education — with food assistance.
“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.
Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt rejected an estimated $60 million in federal funds that could have benefitted more than 400,000 children in the state this year. Stitt cited concerns over the federal government’s implementation of the program and said existing services like SNAP and state-level food programs already address food insecurity.
“We gave over $20 million over the last couple of years to different food banks,” Stitt told KJRH News. “So, we are satisfied that kids won’t be going hungry in the summertime. We just don’t know enough about the program; not saying we won’t do it next year.”
Stitt added that there wasn’t enough information surrounding Summer EBT, saying there was “more bureaucracy for families to wade through.”
11 South Carolina
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said the state decided not to participate in Summer EBT because officials are trying to move past pandemic aid.
“That was a COVID-related benefit. We’ve got to get back to doing normal business. We just can’t continue that forever, but we’re still continuing all the other programs that we have,” McMaster told reporters, per The Hechinger Report.
South Carolina’s existing summer meals programs currently rely on support from sponsors, who have been decreasing in number over the years. The state’s biggest program is run by the USDA and relies on sponsors, like the Lowcountry Food Bank, to distribute the food. Since 2019, fewer sponsors have signed up to participate. According to the South Carolina Department of Education, there were 78 sponsors in 2019 compared to 45 in 2023.
12 South Dakota
Republican Gov. Kristi Noem said South Dakota’s low unemployment, the administrative burden of running the program, and the state’s “robust existing food programs” are just a few reasons why the state opted out of Summer EBT.
“Federal money often comes with strings attached, and more of it is often not a good thing,” Ian Fury, the chief of communications for Gov. Noem wrote in an email to Chalkbeat.
According to KFOX14, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission said participating in the program was not possible this summer because the USDA guidance came so late last year, making it challenging for approval by the state legislature.
Officials at the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF) decided to forego Summer EBT benefits due to administrative costs. Deputy Commissioner of Children and Families Miranda Gray said the administrative costs could be significant, due to the fact that Vermont lacks the IT system needed to “streamline the collection of eligibility information from participating households,” the Vermont Public reported.
Gray added that moving forward with the Summer EBT program this year would cause undue “budgetary pressure.”
“It’s not just bringing this [federal food assistance] income here. There is an expense to Vermont to being able to administer this program now,” she said.
Vermont hopes to have a new, working IT system at the Agency of Education and DCF in advance of the summer of 2025. Gray said the state plans to permanently enroll in the Summer EBT program once that system is in place.
“Vermont is very committed to doing this, but also wanting to make sure we are doing this thoughtfully and correctly, because it is federal money that will be audited, so wanting to make sure that we are prepared,” she said.
The state claimed the Summer EBT program is a welfare program mis-marketed as a program for kids.
“I will not let the Biden Administration weaponize summer school lunch programs to justify a new welfare program,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder said in a statement emailed to WyoFile. “Thanks, but no thanks. We will continue to combat childhood hunger the Wyoming way.