The Iowa Hunger Coalition (IHC) strongly condemns the decision by the state of Iowa not to participate in the new federal nutrition program, Summer EBT. This program would have provided each child who is eligible for free or reduced-price school meals an additional $40 per month to use for food during June, July, and August. This means 240,000 children in Iowa will not receive $120 in food assistance during the coming summer of 2024.
“This is an unconscionable decision,” said Iowa Hunger Coalition board chair Luke Elzinga. “Announcing three days before Christmas that we’ve deliberately chosen not to feed hungry kids? The Dickensian parallels write themselves.”
In the announcement, Gov. Kim Reynolds stated that “an EBT card does nothing to promote nutrition at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic,” and HHS Dir. Kelly Garcia stated, “another benefit card addressed to children is not the way to take on this issue.” The Iowa Hunger Coalition could not disagree more strongly with these sentiments.
“The idea that low-income Iowans can’t be trusted to make their own choices about what to feed their kids is incredibly insulting,” said Elzinga. “We’ve somehow decided that parents know best when it comes to school curriculum but not what to feed their kids? Starvation is not a legitimate strategy to reduce childhood obesity.”
Low-income families routinely face struggles in accessing nutritious food due to its high cost. A 2021 USDA study found that the number one reported barrier from SNAP participants to eating healthier was the high cost of healthy food. Hundreds of thousands of Iowans are struggling to put food on their tables right now, and the need is especially high for families with children. An additional $120 in nutritional benefits during the summer would be a huge boon to helping these families provide healthy food for their children.
“An abundance of academic research has made clear the link between food insecurity and obesity in the United States,” said Elzinga. “Gov. Reynolds and Dir. Garcia are either woefully uninformed on this issue, or are using childhood obesity as a distraction from the failures of their administration to address hunger and food insecurity. Their press release praises the fact that enrollment in SNAP is at a 15-year low in Iowa, but when we have food banks and food pantries across the state assisting record-breaking numbers of people, that should be worn as a mark of shame, not a badge of honor.”
The Iowa Hunger Coalition also pushes back on the idea expressed in the press release that Summer EBT is a “COVID-era” program. Summer EBT is the first new federal nutrition program in two decades, and was created by an act of Congress in December 2022. While similar to the Pandemic-EBT program, pilot programs for Summer EBT date back to 2011. The program provides income-eligible families with an EBT card loaded with benefits, similar to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Food pantries routinely see increased numbers of people seeking assistance during the summer.
“Hunger is a policy choice, and this is just one more unfortunate example of that fact,” said Elzinga. “Summer EBT should be a bipartisan no-brainer policy win for Iowa’s kids. The Iowa Hunger Coalition will be making this an issue with the Iowa legislature in 2024. We can not and will not accept this disastrous decision by Governor Reynolds. It’s deplorable that Iowa’s leadership has chosen to make feeding children a political issue.”
While the press release states that Iowa will “continue to support Iowa children eligible for food assistance year-round by enhancing and expanding already existing childhood nutrition programs,” it does not provide any specifics.
“Iowa has clear opportunities to address hunger and food insecurity through smart, bipartisan policy change,” said Elzinga. “We can invest in the Double Up Food Bucks program to promote the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables by SNAP participants. We can expand free school meals to more children in Iowa. We can support our local and regional food systems. At a bare minimum, we should be able to provide nutritional assistance to low-income children through Summer EBT. Instead of seriously addressing the issue, Iowa’s leadership seems more interested in spreading narratives and enacting policies that harm poor people.”