Iowa’s decision to opt out of a crucial federal program aimed at providing additional food assistance to low-income families has sparked widespread criticism and disbelief. The Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) for Children program, set to launch in summer 2024, was designed to alleviate food insecurity among school-aged children who typically benefit from free or reduced-price meals during the academic year. Under the program, eligible families would receive a $40 per child monthly allowance for three months, delivered through a prepaid debit card.
However, Iowa’s Republican Governor Kim Reynolds, along with the state’s health and human services department, announced their refusal to participate in the program. They justified their decision by criticizing the program’s lack of restrictions on food purchases, with Reynolds shifting the focus to childhood obesity rather than addressing the pressing issue of food insecurity affecting one in 11 children in Iowa.
The Iowa Hunger Coalition (IHC) lambasted the decision, pointing out the devastating impact it will have on the state’s children. According to IHC, approximately 240,000 kids in Iowa will miss out on $120 in food assistance next summer due to this decision. Luke Elzinga, the IHC’s board chair, condemned the move as “unconscionable,” highlighting the irony in the government’s timing of the announcement just days before Christmas.
Elzinga also criticized the state government’s insinuation that low-income families cannot be trusted to make appropriate food choices for their children, labeling this notion as “incredibly insulting.” He emphasized the established link between food insecurity and obesity, debunking the government’s implied rationale for opting out of the program.
As the pandemic-era safety net continues to unravel, hunger is on the rise across the United States. While some states are adopting measures to permanently implement crisis-era programs like universal free school meals, Iowa, along with others like Arkansas, is taking steps to reduce benefits for its poorest residents. The IHC has warned that Iowa’s refusal to participate in the Summer EBT program will only worsen the already high demand at food banks.
In a stark condemnation of the decision, Elzinga remarked, “Hunger is a policy choice.” He vowed that the IHC would challenge this decision in the Iowa legislature in 2024, refusing to accept what he describes as a “disastrous” and “deplorable” move by Governor Reynolds.
Democratic State Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott echoed these sentiments, lamenting the significant federal funding that Iowa is now set to forgo. She expressed skepticism that the state would compensate for this loss, leaving the burden to charities to fill the gap.
The choice to reject the Summer EBT program, which could have been a bipartisan victory for Iowa’s children, has now turned into a contentious political issue, leaving many to question the priorities of Iowa’s leadership. The decision not only reflects a disregard for the wellbeing of Iowa’s most vulnerable children but also signals a troubling trend in the state’s approach to public assistance and food security.