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HomeGeneralTexas Opts Out of Federal Nutrition Program, Passes $450 Million Summer Lunch...

Texas Opts Out of Federal Nutrition Program, Passes $450 Million Summer Lunch Program Instead

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This year, 35 states will participate in a $2.5 billion federal nutrition program. The program aims to help low-income parents buy groceries for their children when free school meals are unavailable during the summer months.

Texas, with 3.8 million eligible children, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has chosen not to participate in this national effort. If Texas had participated, qualifying families would have received $120 per child for the three summer months via a preloaded card.

The USDA estimated that Texas is foregoing a total of $450 million in federal tax dollars that would have benefited eligible families. According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the reason for the state’s decision to opt-out is straightforward.

Tiffany Young, a spokesperson for the state agency, stated that the USDA’s notification of their new Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT program on Dec. 29 provided the nation’s second-largest state with only six months to implement it. She deemed this timeframe insufficient.

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The summer program would also involve two other agencies – the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Department of Agriculture. However, HHSC would have to bear the brunt of the work, as they would need to coordinate and direct the distribution of the preloaded cards to qualifying families.

Already burdened with the cumbersome task of unwinding Medicaid coverage, the agency has been facing significant challenges. Since last April, they have removed more than 2 million Texans from the program due to changes in federal guidelines during the pandemic, necessitating reapplication for those who still qualify.

From HHSC’s perspective, launching an entirely new program would be challenging at this time. Additionally, the USDA would only cover 50% of the administrative expenses for Summer EBT, leaving the state responsible for the remaining costs.

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Young wrote that the HHSC, TDA, and TEA have been engaged in “active discussions” regarding each agency’s responsibilities for the Summer EBT program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture initially piloted the summer program with Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) during the 2019-2020 school year, implementing it in all 50 states. P-EBT was developed to support children from low-income families who qualified for free and reduced-price school meals during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Federal officials estimate that during the summer months, approximately 21 million children across 35 states, five U.S. territories, and four tribes participating in the program would receive the additional financial assistance.

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ALSO READ: Red State Governors Kick Against Biden’s Summer Grocery Program

Texas is one of 15 states that have chosen not to participate in the program. Among these 15 states is Alabama, which cited similar reasons to Texas, attributing their decision to an insufficient amount of time to allocate the necessary funds for the program.

For over 3 million children in Texas, school lunch may constitute their only full meal each day. Feeding Texas, a nonprofit organization that supports food banks across the state, reports that one in five children in Texas are affected by food insecurity. 

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