Louisiana is one of 15 states that declined to take part in a federal program that will help feed some 21 million children this summer in 35 other states that are participating. There’s still an opportunity to enroll students, but it’s unclear whether the Landry administration will take part.
A spokesperson confirmed Friday the Louisiana Department of Education late last year chose not to enroll in the program because it involved a significant commitment of resources just before a new governor and legislature would take office.
“LDOE considered it improper to commit Governor Landry and a new legislature to millions of dollars in increased spending toward a new government program,” department spokesman Ted Beasley wrote in a statement to the Illuminator. “Additionally, LDOE determined that existing meal programs… would remain in effect during the summer of 2024. Further, LDOE secured confirmation from the USDA that Louisiana could still enter into the Summer EBT program beyond January 1.”
The existing meal programs referenced include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), SNAP for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Summer Food Service Program and additional meals through the USDA’s Seamless Summer Option (SSO).
Leaders from states that have also refused the Summer EBT assistance is politicizing the choice.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said he turned down the USDA offer because of his desire to reject “attempts to expand the welfare state,” Mississippi Today reported. A spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Human Services said his agency and the state education department did not have the resources to support the summer program.
“Federal money often comes with strings attached, and more of it is often not a good thing,” Ian Fury, spokesperson for South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, wrote in an email to Chalkbeat. Low unemployment, the summer program’s administrative burden “robust existing food programs” were other reasons he said the state declined.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a statement saying her opposition to Summer EBT was because the program doesn’t tightly restrict what foods families can buy and it would cost the state $2.2 million to administer, according to Chalkbeat.
There is still time for states, including Louisiana, to join the Summer EBT program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting applications until Feb. 15. A spokesperson Gov. Landry did not respond when asked whether he would do so.
The USDA’s Summer EBT program makes permanent benefits it previously offered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) funds were added to qualifying families’ debit cards.
The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) projected disbursing $65.5 million in P-EBT aid last June and July, with each child receiving $120 for the period. The department has not responded regarding the actual amount of benefits distributed.
The permanent USDA program will give $40 in June and July for each eligible school-aged child, up to $120 per family, to buy groceries.
There are more than 234,000 children in the state who are considered food insecure, according to the food bank coalition Feeding Louisiana. The USDA officially describes food insecurity as when people don’t have enough to eat and don’t know where they will obtain their next meal.
“An additional $40 a child for a month would be a real blessing for those families,” said Pat Van Burkleo, Feeding Louisiana executive director. “It wouldn’t meet all their needs for their kids, but it would definitely offset the expenses of having to buy additional groceries, mostly now that groceries have gotten so expensive.”
In July, DCFS reported disbursements of $45.5 million in benefits to approximately 186,000 children through its 2022-23 School Year and Child Care Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer programs.
A DCFS spokesperson referred questions about the USDA summer program to the governor’s office. The department also has new leadership, with retired juvenile court Judge David Matlock taking over Monday.
This is a developing report.