Fruit and vegetable sellers at Kansas City River Market are expected to take payments from the coming summer EBT program. (Suzanne King/The Beacon)

Missouri and Kansas families will be getting money for kids’ summer meals — eventually

The new summer EBT program will give an extra $120 to eligible school-age kids. Families probably won’t get the money until late summer or fall. But even if the money comes late, anti-hunger advocates say the extra dollars are an important step toward reducing growing food insecurity in the states.

Suzanne King, Beacon: Kansas City

Summer may be half over by the time Kansas families get extra food aid meant to see them through long hot days when school breakfasts and lunches disappear.

For Missouri families, the aid may not arrive until a new school year is well underway.

But that still beats the 13 states where families won’t be getting any help with summer groceries because state leaders skipped the federal government’s new $2.5 billion summer food assistance program known as Sun Bucks.

Public health advocates, pointing to growing food insecurity among low-income Kansans and Missourians, said they are pleased — and somewhat surprised — that this time conservative politicians in their states accepted federal aid.

“It was surprisingly pretty easy,” said Christine Woody, food security policy manager with Empower Missouri. “I thought there was going to be a lot of pushback.”

Missouri and Kansas, both controlled by Republican-dominated legislatures, could have done as  they did with Medicaid expansion and opted not to accept federal dollars, advocates said. Missouri voters later passed a ballot measure that expanded the low-income health insurance program anyway. But Kansas still hasn’t opted in.

The states also could have followed the lead of Iowa, where Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds rejected the summer food aid, saying the program didn’t do enough to ensure that kids got nutritional food. Or Texas, which turned down the federal program because state bureaucrats said it came with too many technical hurdles and required too many matching state tax dollars.

Instead, Kansas agreed to take part almost as soon as Congress passed funding for the summer food assistance program in December 2022. And Missouri made its participation official earlier this year, just before a deadline.

The program will provide an additional $120 per child for summer groceries to an estimated 266,000 Kansas children and 429,000 Missouri children. Even if the dollars won’t reach families at the start of the summer, and possibly not before summer is over, the money will still help.

“I personally know kids whose only meal for the day is what they have in school,” said Ruchi Favreau, director of nutritional services for the Kansas City, Kansas, public schools.

The extra dollars this summer will extend a lifeline for them and thousands of other kids around the state.

“It can make a huge difference,” said Karen Siebert, public policy and advocacy adviser for Harvesters Community Food Network, which works with food banks in Missouri and Kansas. “Especially now with food inflation where it is, even if it’s not here for the summer, hopefully in arrears, (the extra money) can help.”

The climbing cost of food, combined with the end of pandemic-era government aid programs, contributed to a sharp rise in the number of Americans considered to be living with food insecurity. The term describes people who don’t have enough to eat and don’t know where their next meal will come from.

The national anti-hunger advocacy group Feeding America’s May report says 13.5% of Americans met the criteria for food insecurity in 2022, the most recent year data is available, compared with 10.4% in 2021.

That amounts to 44 million Americans, or one in every seven people, and includes 13 million children. That is a major jump. In 2021, the report said, about 34 million Americans were considered food insecure.


Feeding America estimates that 13% of Kansans faced food insecurity in 2022, compared with just under 10% in 2021. That included about 131,430 children or 19%, up from 94,000 or about 13% in 2021.

In Missouri, the group estimates that about 15% of the population faced food insecurity in 2022, compared with 11.6% the previous year. In 2022, that number included almost 255,000 children, close to 19%, compared with 177,000 children or almost 13% in 2021.

Dr. Heidi Sallee, a St. Louis pediatrician who is the incoming president of the Missouri chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said she sees the consequences of food insecurity every day when patients come in with iron deficiency anemia. The condition, often caused by an unhealthy diet, means kids don’t have enough red blood cells carrying oxygen to their organs and brain.

“They’re more tired,” she said. “They don’t have as much energy. And it can affect their development and learning.”

She hopes the extra food aid coming to families through the summer EBT program will help parents buy meat and green leafy vegetables, foods they need to reverse iron deficiency anemia.

“Our bodies absorb nutrients through fresh food,” she said.

But fresh food can be difficult, if not impossible, for many families to afford during the summer. Families increasingly rely on public schools to feed their children breakfast and lunch. When summer comes and those meals go away, many families run into trouble. Sun Bucks is supposed to help cover the gap.

Similar to food aid offered to poor families during the COVID pandemic, the summer EBT program gives families extra money through an electronic benefit transfer card. The benefit comes to $40 per month for each eligible child.

Children 7 to 17 years old are eligible if they received food assistance through SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, sometimes called food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and/or foster care benefits at any point during the school year. Children who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch at school also qualify.

Funds will be loaded on existing food assistance accounts or issued as separate EBT cards, which families can spend at grocery stores or markets. Children already enrolled in food assistance programs will automatically get the summer bump, so cumbersome paperwork won’t be necessary.

Federally subsidized summer meals will continue to be offered through some schools and organizations* like the Boys and Girls Clubs. And free meals-to-go are available in some areas. But those established programs were leaving behind thousands of kids whose families lacked easy access to transportation, advocates said. Summer EBT cards, which will be mailed directly to qualifying families, give parents more flexibility to buy groceries so their children can eat at home.

While the federal government bears the bulk of the cost associated with the summer EBT program, which is administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service agency, states pay half the cost to administer it. That comes to $1.9 million in Kansas. In Missouri, the state will spend $1.3 million this summer and has budgeted $6.6 million, which still needs approval, for next year.

Kansas families will begin seeing payments from the summer EBT program at the end of July. And families with children who qualify who don’t receive payments automatically can put in an application after Aug. 12.

Missouri waited longer to opt into the summer program. Funding wasn’t approved until May and approval from the USDA is still pending. That’s why Missouri families probably won’t be getting their summer payments until sometime in the fall.

Next, anti-hunger advocates said they will be watching debate around the $1.5 trillion federal farm bill that funds the SNAP program. Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee want to effectively cut the program by limiting changes to the formula used to determine benefits.

In an editorial published May 27 in The Kansas City Star, U.S. Rep. Mark Alford of Missouri’s 4th District, a Republican who sits on the House committee, said SNAP had become too large. The program, he wrote, “was never intended to become a lifestyle but rather a life vest.”

Meanwhile, Missouri will have to revamp how it administers its SNAP program after a federal judge ruled in May that the Department of Social Services’ long wait times, denial of benefits and other issues had violated federal laws.

*Webb City Farmers Market participates in the Summer Free Kids Meals program and the Double Your Food Bucks EBT program. And it has a privately funded program for Women Infants and Children (WIC).

This article first appeared on Beacon: Kansas City and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.