Alabama is one of 15 states that have rejected millions in federal dollars to provide food assistance to hungry children during the summer.
USDA’s summer food assistance program expects to provide $2.5 billion to ease food insecurity for 21 million children in participating states across the country, The Washington Post reports.
Starting in June, families with incomes below the poverty level who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches will receive $120 per child for the summer. Families will be able to use a preloaded EBT card to purchase food at grocery stores, farmers markets, and other retailers.
But more than half a million children in Alabama who qualify for assistance will not be among them because Alabama did not indicate its intent to participate in the 2024 program by the January 1 deadline.
Thirty-five states, five U.S. territories, and four Native American tribes met the deadline, but
Alabama officials said that six months’ notice was not enough time. As a result, Alabama will miss out on $65.4 million that would have helped an estimated 545,000 children statewide.
Food Insecurity and Health
Food insecurity in the U.S. has increased sharply amid the winding down of pandemic-era assistance and high inflation. In 2022, a million more households with children experienced food insecurity than in 2021, with 13 million children living in food insecure households in 2022.
Food insecurity among children increases in the summer, when millions of children lose access to free and reduced-price school meals. Some schools provide summer meal programs, but only about 1 in 6 children eligible for on-site summer meals actually get them because families lack transportation, especially in rural areas, The Washington Post reports.
Summer EBT programs address these problems by allowing families to use EBT cards at their local grocery store. Early pilot programs were shown to reduce the rate of children suffering extreme hunger by a third while also expanding access to healthier foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, according to the Post.
Despite evidence that summer food assistance programs reduce food insecurity among children and increase access to healthy food, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds rejected the Summer EBT program because she said it “does nothing to promote nutrition at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic.”
But researchers are finding that the rise in obesity could partly be a result of moderate food insecurity. Indeed, food insecurity puts adults and children at increased risk for a variety of negative health outcomes, including obesity, which is itself a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and some types of cancer.
That connection is especially visible in Alabama, which has one of the highest rates of hunger in the country and was recently found to be the sixth unhealthiest state in the U.S. based on disease and lifestyle factors including rates of diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity.