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News / Northwest

Summer grocery program to feed WA kids launching soon

It’s similar to pandemic-era food aid and will provide lower-income families a $120 card to help pay for food when free school meals aren’t available.

By LAUREL DEMKOVICH, Washington State Standard
Published: April 19, 2024, 2:51pm

When summer nears, hundreds of thousands of kids in Washington can face three months without free meals provided by their schools.

“There’s this huge gap, and it affects learning,” Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray said.

But starting this summer, a new federal program will help lower-income families who rely on free school breakfasts and lunches.

The Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer Program for Children is similar to a program that helped feed families during the pandemic. With a push from Murray, a permanent version of the program was approved federally in 2022 and is set to launch in Washington this summer, thanks to some new funding from the state Legislature.

It will provide families with a $120 preloaded card usable at grocery stores and farmers markets. The cards will be issued to families between mid-June and the end of August, but the exact dates that a child may receive their benefits will vary, according to state officials.

Children whose families are up to 185% of the federal poverty line – $57,720 for a family of four – can qualify. The state estimates about 550,000 kids in Washington will be eligible.

Most of the funding comes from the federal government. But during this year’s session, the state Legislature set aside $12 million over the next two years to fund a portion of the program. The plan for the state program, which will be run by the Department of Social and Health Services and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, was approved by the federal government last week.

Most children who already receive Basic Food Assistance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits, or a free or reduced school lunch are automatically eligible for the program and won’t need to reapply, said Norah West, spokesperson for the Department of Social and Health Services.

West encouraged families who are eligible but have not applied for free or reduced school meals to do so before the end of the school year if they want access to the summer program.

Families who do not qualify for the other programs can still apply for the summer assistance. Details will be released in the coming weeks on how to do that.

West said exact dates for when children will get their benefits will be released soon, and families should check the state’s SUN Bucks page regularly to learn more.

Once a family is approved, they will get the card within seven to 10 days. Unused benefits will expire 122 days after they are issued.

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The summer program is just a piece of a broader conversation lawmakers are having about ensuring kids get enough to eat. State legislators have tried in recent years to provide free school meals for all children, but proposals to do so have failed.

On a federal level, Murray said she is continuing to raise awareness about the broader effects of nutrition on children’s learning abilities and well-being.

“The stress on families is incredible,” Murray told the Standard in February. “It just seems to me that in the United States of America, that’s something that our families should not have to worry about.”

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: info@washingtonstatestandard.com. Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.