Speakers urge Alabama lawmakers to fund Summer EBT, restore library funds

A box of oranges and a box of fruit with a sign saying EBT behind them.
A box of oranges and a box of fruit with a sign saying EBT behind them.
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In participating states, low-income families will receive $40 each month for each eligible school-aged child, up to $120, to buy groceries, beginning in the summer of 2024. Shown is a sign at a grocery store noting the acceptance of electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, cards, on Dec. 4, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Speakers at a public hearing Wednesday on the proposed 2025 Education Trust Fund budget urged lawmakers to include more money for summer meal programs, and reconsider cuts to the Alabama Public Library Service (APLS).

The proposed 2025 ETF, sponsored by House Ways and Means Education Committee Chair Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, will allocate about $9.3 billion to education and related expenses. The budget is about $550 million (6.25%) higher than the current budget, and includes a 2% pay raise. 

Multiple speakers encouraged lawmakers to include money for the summer meal program, known at Summer EBT. State officials said last year that Alabama would not participate because money was not allocated for the program in the current budget.

“Food insecurity rises during the summer and Alabama children and teens who participate in school lunch and breakfast programs will lose access to these nutritious meals,” said Rhonda Mann, executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s Children. “By providing consistent access to food during the summer, we offer more than just sustenance, we help these young minds thrive during the summertime and beyond.”

Camille Bennett, executive director of Project Say Something and a child care provider, urged the committee to allocate more money for child care, with COVID-19 era funds going away.

“The federal dollars that sustained our industry during COVID will expire in September,” she said. “Child care centers in Alabama need at least 20 to $30 million state investments to stabilize child care.”

Bill opponents – which included two on the sign-up sheet but only one speaker – focused on a funding cut of $750,000 to the APLS.

“An 18% cut to any agency for any reason is unheard of and almost unconscionable,” said Jessica Hayes, the treasurer and former president of the Alabama Library Association, who worked as a professional librarian for 14 years. “Is this yet another attempt to punish this agency just for doing its job and following the due process and changing the Administrative Code, which is up for a public hearing on April 30?”

Garrett previously told the Reflector that the cuts were not intended to be punitive.

Democrats Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, and Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, both said they supported more money for food.

“We’re going to feed these children or they going to drag me from that mic with a chain all the way out to the parking lot,” Smitherman said.

No vote was taken Wednesday. Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, the chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee, did not indicate what if any changes the Senate might make to the House-passed bill.  

The bill needs two days to pass; there are six legislative days left in the session.

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