FLINT, Mich., April 8, 2016 – Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon today announced $26.9 million in grant funds to be distributed among eight grantees to continue administering pilots of the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) programs, providing summertime nutrition assistance to children who receive free and reduced price meals during the school year. In addition to funding existing pilots for summer 2016, these grants will extend benefits to new rural areas, Tribal Nations, and areas of extreme need including Flint, Michigan. Concannon made the announcement at an event at Haskell Youth Center in Flint, encouraging students to use good nutrition as a way to help mitigate the negative health impacts of the water crisis.
"While students from low income households have consistent access to nutritious meals during the academic year through the school meal programs, they are more vulnerable to food insecurity when school is out for the summer," said Concannon. "USDA's Summer EBT pilots have shown that students who participate in Summer EBT are better nourished throughout the summer months. This is especially important in Flint, where good nutrition is a crucial tool in mitigating the absorption of lead."
Summer EBT provides a monthly benefit on a debit-type card that can be used throughout the summer for food purchases at authorized stores. Summer EBT is a complement to traditional summer meal programs, which offer no cost summer meals at approved sites, and is especially valuable in areas with limited or no access to traditional summer meal programs. Given the critical need for good nutrition to mitigate the impacts of the water crisis, USDA is providing Michigan with grant funds to expand Summer EBT to Flint for this coming summer. Over 15,000 Flint students who have been affected by the water crisis will be eligible to receive a $30 benefit package each summer month. These students will also receive information on nutritious foods that may help mitigate lead absorption.
Summer EBT, which is currently operating as demonstration project, was first funded by Congress in 2010. Rigorous evaluations of these pilots found that Summer EBT can significantly reduce very low food security among children, the most severe form of food insecurity, by one-third. Studies also showed that these additional resources enabled families to eat more healthfully, eating significantly more fruits and vegetables and whole grains – key building blocks to better health. Based on these proven successes, the President's proposed plan would allow Summer EBT to reach nearly 20 million children once fully implemented.
This year's grantees include Cherokee Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, and Oregon. All eight grantees participated in Summer EBT in 2015; however, their 2016 projects are aiming to serve over 250,000 children total, nearly 90 percent more, or over 120,000 additional children, than in 2015. Six grantees proposed to expand their programs in rural areas (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Delaware, Missouri, Nevada, and Oregon), building on the significant rural and tribal expansion that began in 2015. Two grantees (Michigan and Missouri) will expand in areas of extreme need, which in addition to Flint include Detroit, MI and Ferguson, MO.
During the academic year, free and reduced price school meals help ensure nearly 22 million low-income children have consistent access to nutritious food through the National School Lunch Program. However, only approximately one-fifth of those children currently participate in summer meal programs. USDA's efforts to expand and enhance both traditional summer meal programs and Summer EBT are working to fill that gap. Since this administration took office, USDA has served more than 1.2 billion summer meals to kids in need.
In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act with bipartisan support to help ensure all American children have the nutritious food they need to perform well in school and grow into healthy adults. The law is working and we are already beginning to see signs of changing diets among children with over 97 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards.
This announcement is part of USDA's continued commitment to ensuring children and families have access to a healthy diet. Over the last six years, USDA has made historic improvements in many of its nutrition assistance programs. Some examples include, updated nutrition standards for school nutrition, the updated WIC package to include whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables, expanding the scope of the SNAP nutrition education program, and supporting an unprecedented growth in the number of farmers markets that accept SNAP and WIC benefits.
In total, FNS administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that, together, comprise America's nutrition safety net. They include, as mentioned above, WIC, SNAP, summer meal programs, and more.