Kansas lawmaker targets summer food stipends for low-income kids

Rep. Francis Awerkamp of St. Marys wants Kansas to withdraw from a federal program that gives needy families a $40-a-month per-student stipend to purchase food over the summer



February 9, 2024 - 4:22 PM

The summer months can be particularly hard for children in low-income families where food budgets are stretched tight.

The lazy days of summer can seem unfathomably long on an empty belly. 

For health officials, the three-month break from school is a special concern for families that rely on the schools to provide their children free breakfasts and lunches during the school year. 

To help tide families over the summer gap, a new federal program called Summer EBT, or Electronic Benefits Transfer, will allot $40 per child per month to those who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. 

After testing the program in several states, this is the first year of what is expected to be a permanent program. 

States will administer the program through pre-loaded debit cards or through a family’s food stamps account. No cash is exchanged.

Admittedly, $120 per child over the course of the summer isn’t much. But every bit helps. 

A measure to withdraw Kansas from the program is before the Kansas House Committee on Welfare Reform. Its chair, Rep. Francis Awerkamp, a Republican from St. Marys, is sponsoring the legislation, House Bill 2674.

Rep. Awerkamp is known for his bootstrap mentality.

In discussions about further limiting food stamp benefits last year, Awerkamp said, “You can’t just give something for nothing.”

An estimated 113,702 Kansas children qualify for the program, according to Adam Proffitt, Kansas Budget Director. Opting out would mean a $13.6 million hit to local economies.

According to Kansas Appleseed, a statewide nonprofit whose focus includes hunger, Proffitt’s estimate is about half of the number of children eligible for the program. 

In Allen County, a little more than 50 percent of school-aged children qualify for the benefit. That’s 1,209 of 2,397 enrolled in our three school districts. 

For Allen County grocery stores, saying no to the federal stipend means a loss of about $148,000.

A lack of transportation is the main reason disadvantaged families can’t take advantage of summer meals programs offered by school districts. 

Only 1 in 6 eligible families typically make use of the free meals, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which funds the summer nutrition program.

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