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What State Legislatures Need to Know About Summer EBT

States that do not participate in the USDA’s new child nutrition program in 2024 can opt to do so in subsequent years.

By Emily Katz  |  December 18, 2023

For the first time in decades, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has created an entirely new child nutrition program.

The Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children, or Summer EBT, program is designed to address child hunger while schools are out of session for the summer. The program was piloted in several states and was permanently authorized as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023. Starting next summer, states willing to cover half the administrative costs have the option to implement the permanent Summer EBT program for the first time.

The federal government will pick up the entire cost of the benefits and the other half of the administrative costs.

Starting a new child nutrition program from scratch requires complex partnerships, and states and tribal organizations nationwide are working across agencies, with state legislatures and with the federal government to stand up the program this summer. Because a new program can come with challenges, the USDA is providing support and flexibility to states as they navigate planning and implementation for the very first time.

Summer EBT Resources

As of December 2023, 18 states and territories and two tribal nations had announced they would participate in the program in summer 2024, and there is still time for other states to join the list. State agencies must notify the USDA of their intent to participate by Jan. 1. States that do not participate in 2024 can opt to do so in subsequent years.

States will play a leading role in Summer EBT, and NCSL has compiled information for state legislatures about this new program.

How does Summer EBT work?

Summer EBT will provide families with kids who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals with $40 per child per month over the summer while school is out. Families will receive physical EBT cards, like those used for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which they can then use to purchase food. States that choose to implement Summer EBT are required to serve all children who qualify for the program.

Students must be individually certified as eligible for the program, including those who attend schools that provide free meals to all students. Students must also meet federal free and reduced-price income eligibility thresholds, even in states that have passed legislation raising the income threshold for free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch during the school year. This means many state child nutrition agencies and state education agencies will have to work together to determine which students are eligible to receive benefits.

Summer EBT will supplement existing summer meal programs for children, namely the Summer Food Service Program and the Seamless Summer Option.

What is the state role in Summer EBT?

Without data from prior years to work with, states will have to use existing figures to estimate their administrative costs. The USDA recommends that states use data on costs from the Pandemic EBT program and estimates of eligible children by state and territory as a starting point.

The department recognizes that some administrative funds may be needed earlier in the planning process and will release an initial allocation of funds to Summer EBT agencies. To receive this allocation, states must have submitted a notice of intent to implement the program in 2024 and a statement affirming the state agency will have funding to meet the required 50% administrative match.

For many states, the Jan. 1 deadline for participation in 2024 may fall before budgets are finalized, which can create uncertainty about the availability of administrative funds for Summer EBT. However, the USDA has advised that there will be no negative consequences for states that are ultimately unable to secure funding for this upcoming year and encourages state agencies that are considering implementation in 2024 to submit their notice of intent. The department also encourages any states that have questions about implementation or planning for Summer EBT to contact their USDA regional office for support.

States that do not implement Summer EBT in 2024 will still be able to do so in 2025 and beyond. Since the program now has permanent authorization, it will continue to be a tool states can use to address child hunger going forward.

Emily Katz is a legislative specialist in NCSL’s State-Federal Affairs Division.

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