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Missouri takes first step toward implementing Summer EBT food program


The state of Missouri has taken the first step toward participating in an enhanced food benefits program for children this summer.

The program, known as Summer EBT, would give families of school-aged children eligible for free or reduced school meals $40 per month per child in federally funded grocery benefits during the summer months.

The money will be provided from federal grants, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's website. Families will receive the money on Electronic Benefit Transfer cards which can be used to buy food at certain stores, similar to the state's SNAP program.

But while the state has sent its letter of intent to the USDA, the program is not set in stone. Missouri has to create a plan for the program and submit it to the USDA by Feb. 15.

"This letter of intent is just that: a letter of intent. It's not binding," said Empower Missouri Food Security Policy Manager Christine Woody. "The state can still decide not to run the program this coming summer."

Empower Missouri supports Missouri joining the Summer EBT program and wrote a letter to the governor last month encouraging the state to participate.

Data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education shows more than 47% of Missouri students received free and reduced-cost lunches in 2023. This includes almost 41% of students enrolled at Columbia Public Schools and more than 54% of students enrolled at Jefferson City School District.

A December report from the Food Research and Action Center shows Missouri has around 429,000 children who would be eligible for the Summer EBT program. That would be more than $51 million in benefits distributed to families in need.

"Summer can be the hungriest time of the year for families, especially with school-aged children," Woody said. "When the school year ends, millions of those children are coming from households with low incomes, and they don't have the support or access of the free and reduced price lunch that they're accustomed to having during the school year."

DSS submitted its letter of intent to administer the Summer EBT program last month, but listed a couple concerns for starting the program.

While the money for families will come from the federal government, the state is responsible for half of the administrative costs. The letter notes the state's ability to meet those funding requirements will be up to the Missouri General Assembly.

It also notes a lack of guidance for the program at the time as a potential challenge.

ABC 17 News reached out to DSS to get an update on the planning process, but was told the department is still reviewing the interim final guidance for the program.

DSS is the lead agency on the program, supported by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. A DESE spokesperson said in an email, "DESE is supporting this program and looks forward ot working with DSS to serve Missouri families."

There was previously a temporary summer Pandemic EBT program to provide children with meals. The Consolidated Appropriations Act in 2023 made the program permanent.

Woody said there were challenges with that program in regard to data sharing, since student data was saved with DESE while the benefits and card data was with DSS. She said this could still be a challenge if Missouri participates in Summer EBT.

She said the new program would likely be a combination of families on free and reduced price lunch getting enrolled in the program automatically and an application option for other families who may qualify.

Missouri is one of more than 30 states that have declared their intent to launch the Summer EBT program.

Woody said it's also important to note the program could have an impact on the state's economy. The Food Research and Action Center reports Missouri could see an economic impact of more than $77 million from the Summer EBT program in 2024.

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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