Iowa to seek summer food benefits for children, just weeks before school starts

The State of Iowa is in the process of applying to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Benefit Program to provide relief to hungry children during the summer months.

Previous state applications for the program have been denied. New app comes just weeks before many Iowa students do back to fall classes.

At the start of the pandemic, the federal government introduced the Pandemic Benefits Electronic Transfer (P-EBT) program. When schools began to close, students receiving free or reduced-price meals could apply for a debit card to buy food to make up for missing school meals.

Currently, 35 states participate in the summer benefits program.

Alan Shannon, director of public affairs for the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, said states can provide benefits for summer 2022 if the state’s plan is approved for the 2021 school year- 2022. The State of Iowa submitted three planes at USDA for the program, but plans for the 2021-2022 school year have not been approved.

“The USDA is doing everything in its power to ensure that all states are able to provide P-EBT benefits to families during the summer months when children are at high risk of food insecurity. “Shannon wrote in an email to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

When Iowa applied for benefits for the 2021-2022 school year, the state was denied. Representatives from the USDA and the Iowa Department of Social Services did not respond to questions about why previous Iowa applications were denied.

DHS posted on its website that in addition to the denial of his application, the end of pandemic-related benefits in Iowa was a factor in his exclusion from the program. Iowa’s emergency declaration expired in mid-February. But a USDA representative said a declaration of a state of emergency was not necessary for the program.

The standard summer benefit in the United States is based on the “median number of weekdays in a sampled school district multiplied by the daily P-EBT rate”. according to USDA. Adopting this metric allows states to simplify the state plan and expedites approval, according to the USDA.

Currently, the State of Iowa is finalizing the submission plan to the USDA which will include the benefit distribution schedule and schedule. Department of Human Services public information officer Alex Carfrae said the state plans to use the standard USDA summer benefit schedule.

Benefits can be issued any time of the year, but some supporters have questioned the timing for Iowa. Matt Unger, the CEO of the Des Moines Area Religious Council, said he was glad the state was applying for the benefits, but it had to be done in May or June.

“These families have not had direct access to breakfast and lunch at school all summer – the children are back in school in two weeks,” Unger said in an email. at Iowa Capital Dispatch. “The support for these families and their children is great, but it was obvious how much it was needed much, much earlier. It will still help those people meet their dietary needs now, but it would have been even more impactful to have those benefits in June or July.

Children under age 6 residing in a household using SNAP benefits may also qualify for the funds if their state is approved. For the summer, families with eligible children will receive approximately $391 per child. Alaska, Hawaii and the territories will receive higher aid amounts.

Unger said when parents or guardians have to provide three meals instead of one, it has a serious financial impact on people who are already struggling to meet their basic needs.

“P-EBT is a bridge for these families during these three months without school,” Unger said in an email response. “The problem is that they needed that bridge in place the most at the end of school compared to when it resumed.”

Who is facing food insecurity?

In Iowa, 1 of 8 children face hunger, with 40% of households receiving SNAP benefits, according to Feed America. One-third of Des Moines Area Religious Council services are for children ages 0-17.

Data Collected Des Moines Area Religious Council. (Graphic from DMARC)

“When we look at who comes to the food pantry network across our network, overall the largest number of people are either children or they’re working or disabled,” Unger said. “When you look at the number of people who are unemployed, it’s a much lower number than some of these comments suggest.”

From 2021 to 2022, 40 states received pandemic assistance to feed children during the summer. Iowa accepted aid in 2019-20, along with all 50 states, territories and the District of Columbia.

“Without those school breakfasts and lunches, a lot of those kids have no other choice,” Unger said. “So having that extra money for their parents to buy food to get through those summer months is really essential.”

Due to inflation in 2022, food prices are expected to increase between 2020 and 2021. Grocery prices are estimated to increase between 10% and 11%, according to USDA.

Many food aid programs have their origins in the Farm Bill, which includes 12 focus areas, including food. Unger said he hoped there would be discussions during the Farm Bill negotiations about how food aid programs accomplished what they were designed to do when the rules changed and funding increased. during the pandemic.

“If we can look into that and explain why we shouldn’t do it more permanently, I’d love to have the conversation,” Unger said. “Because I think there’s a lot of things that worked really well during the pandemic that we’ll probably never see again.”

Comments are closed.