TALLAHASSEE – Gov. The Ron DeSantis administration has not yet applied for up to $ 820 million in food aid for more than 2 million Florida children, raising concerns from food aid groups and others who note that child hunger is still a significant problem.
The federal program, called Pandemic electronic benefit transfer program, was created last year to help feed children who missed meals because they did not attend schools personally during the pandemic. The program puts money on a card for families of children who are eligible for free or reduced meals at their school. It was set up by the federal government last year to ensure that children were still fed while attending school remotely.
Florida participated in the program during the previous school year and estimated in its application that the state would be eligible for $ 1.2 billion to feed 1.2 million children from August 2020 to June 2021.
However, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture extended the program through this summer, the state did not apply.
This means that parents of children who qualify for free or reduced lunch are missing out on an extra $ 375 to help pay for their children’s meals this summer. The program would pay $ 2.26 for breakfast, $ 3.60 for lunch and $ 0.96 for a snack for one estimated 2.1 million children in Florida every day.
There is no deadline for the state to apply, which means parents can still retroactively receive the money for this summer even if students return to class. In Virginia, a lump sum of $ 375 is expected to hit recipients’ electronic benefit transfer cards this week.
The state has had to apply since April, prompting observers to fear the state will choose not to participate. Florida is the largest state that has not applied for the program.
“It’s a very worrying trend that we’re leaving money on the table to feed people in need, at no cost to the Floridians,” said Cindy Huddleston, senior policy analyst at the Florida Policy Institute, a progressive think tank.
Huddleston said the Department of Children and Families, which handles the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and other food aid programs, have not told her if they will apply for the summer program.
Neither DeSantis’ office nor the Department of Children and Families answered questions on Monday about whether the state planned to apply for the money.
Despite Florida’s improved economic picture compared to earlier in the pandemic, food insecurity remains a problem for many children in Florida. A study by the U.S. Census Bureau of Households in Florida from June and July this year found that 14 percent of adults reported that their children did not eat enough because the household could not afford food.
DeSantis in recent months has pushed aggressively for life to return to normal, even if it means Floridians are missing out on billions of dollars in federal benefits.
When he let the state’s pandemic state of emergency expire over the summer, it caused SNAP receivers to lose approx. $ 280 million in additional federal benefits every month. In May, he chose to stop unemployed Floridians from receiving an additional $ 300 in federal unemployment benefits every week he made an effort to get people to return to work.
The state has also been slow to roll out other federal aid; by the end of July it had distributed 2 percent of federal rent assistance.
Taken together, these programs helped stabilize children and families during the pandemic, said Thomas Mantz, CEO of Feeding Tampa Bay, a food bank that provides meals to families in 10 counties.
When the pandemic closed schools last year, it contributed to a 400 to 500 percent increase in demand for his organization.
“Suddenly, kids who got food in school were no longer,” Mantz said.
This demand has dropped dramatically to the many different federal assistance programs. But as these programs expired, he said he feared demand could rise.
“The need is still pretty big,” Mantz said.
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