Texas has declined to participate in a new national program that would help feed hungry children over the summer.
Summer EBT is a new federal program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and approved by congress in 2022. It provides families with grocery money during the summer months when many food insecure children are unable to get meals at schools. Families receive $40 per month per child in the form of a debit card.
Texas was slated to receive $350 million in federal money for the program, but the Texas Health and Human Services Commission says they are declining it because of logistical problems.
“Ensuring children have access to adequate nutrition supports during the summer months is a priority for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission,” Jennifer Ruffcorn with Texas HHSC told Nexstar. “Due to… current resource constraints at the state agencies, the level of effort needed to implement a new program, and the need for new appropriations from the Legislature, it is not feasible for Texas to successfully launch Summer EBT in 2024.”
The final rules for the program were released just three days before the deadline to participate, and states are expected to pay for 50 percent of the administrative costs of the program. It is not unreasonable to assume that THHSC lacks the current resources to work with the influx of federal dollars, particularly with Governor Greg Abbott siphoning off more than $200 million for the commission to fund his ongoing and constitutionally shaky border action, Operation Lone Star.
Likewise, while the Texas Legislature did establish a Texas Food System Security and Resiliency Planning Council this year, it offered very little in direct financial help for low-income and hungry Texans. Agricultural Commission Sid Miller appointed council members in November, but it doesn’t look like they prepared for the Summer EBT program.
The idea that the federal deadline was unmeetable rings hollow to the USDA.
“The fact that 44 states, territories and tribes are moving forward in the program’s inaugural year shows that states have had the information they needed,” a spokesman told The Houston Chronicle. “Those that do not launch the program this summer will have future opportunities to opt-in, and we will keep working with every state and tribe to set them up for success in doing so.”
It’s likely that there is something much more partisan at work. Of the 15 states that are not participating in the Summer EBT program, 13 of them are states carried by former President Donald Trump, who is currently the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination despite being under criminal indictment for election interference and other crimes. Only Vermont and Georgia are among the blue states not participating, the latter of which is under Republican control in the executive and legislative branch.
A sudden influx of federal money to needy families thanks to a Democratic president in an election year would hurt Republicans. The fact that so many states leaving federal money on the table are Republican controlled is telling.