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News / Clark County News

State will provide $120 EBT cards to help keep Clark County kids fed while school is out

Summer meal effort to expand for thousands of Clark County students in need

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 21, 2024, 6:05am

Tens of thousands of children in Clark County will be eligible to receive grocery benefits this summer as part of a new program launched by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer program — also known as SUN Bucks — will send eligible children a $120 benefit card for food sometime between early June and August, according to an announcement last week. State leaders estimate more than 500,000 children will be eligible statewide.

The program is intended to serve as a full-time replacement for the temporary pandemic EBT program, which provided similar meal vouchers to children before concluding last year. It will also supplement daily meal services local public school districts provide throughout the region.

Katy Bretanus, Vancouver Public Schools’ nutrition services director, said between 10,000 and 14,000 students in her district will be eligible for the program.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vancouver has seen an uptick in the number of students taking advantage of free or reduced-price meal services. Approximately 48.9 percent of Vancouver students identified as low-income, according to state data.

“We know that nutrition is so important for our students to learn and grow and we know that since implementing a (free) school meals program, our interest in school meals has gone up drastically,” she said. “Lots of students are food insecure. We feed thousands of students a day breakfast and lunch and that goes away in the summer. We also know that these programs have cut food insecurity by a third.”

The new program isn’t expected to impact any other local seasonal meal services, such as Share Vancouver’s summer meals program. Share’s program will operate from June 24-Aug. 9 at multiple locations around Vancouver; the nonprofit is expected to release specifics next month.

Eligibility

Students will be automatically identified as eligible if they receive any other food or housing assistance services and if they attend a school that participates in a national school breakfast or lunch program, which includes all of Vancouver Public Schools and Evergreen Public Schools.

Families can contact their school district’s nutrition services department for questions about eligibility.

Like with the pandemic EBT program, not all students will receive their SUN Bucks cards in the mail at the same time. The state sends out the cards on a rolling basis, where students with higher needs generally receive their cards earlier — meaning some may receive their cards right at the beginning of summer while others might get them toward the end of summer.

Bretanus hopes this program continues for years to come, as the pandemic highlighted a need for greater food access across Vancouver.

“(The state) found the pandemic EBT program was really beneficial to families, so they wanted to ensure it could continue,” she said. “This is really awesome and helpful for us.”

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