Florida is one of 15 states that did not opt into a USDA program designed to feed children facing food insecurity during the summer break.
The Summer EBT program would have provided parents with $40 for each eligible child per month to spend at eligible grocery stores and farmer’s markets.
Had Florida opted in, the government would have received $250 million to cover 2.1 million eligible children, according to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
“No kid should have to spend their summer hungry, period,” she said. “People should feel that it is unacceptable that this governor decided to opt out of this program.”
When contacted for an explanation, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Children and Families said Florida had a robust enough program of its own.
She also said accepting help from the USDA was complicated.
“We anticipate that our state’s full approach to serving children will continue to be successful this year without any additional federal programs that inherently always come with some federal strings attached,” DCF Deputy Chief of Staff Mallory McManus wrote.
McManus did not respond to a follow up email asking what those “strings” were.
Jean-Pierre laughed when asked about the strings.
“There are no strings attached,” she said. “This is for low-income families who have kids. That’s it. That’s who it benefits.”
Advocates say 25% of Central Florida children do not know where their next meal will come from, and even a small amount of money makes a difference.
“Any additional support that they can find for their families, even if it means providing two or four or six additional meals a week,” No Hungry Kids’ Mike Whitaker said. “In many cases, those are meals that children otherwise miss.”
Whitaker called solutions simple, starting with the community level.
Dr. Candice Jones, of Orange Blossom Pediatrics, said she routinely sees undernourished children at her practice, and screens for it when she meets patients.
“I talk to the family about it and offer them the resources that we have for our local community,” she explained. “Having that come up on a regular basis and having to send them to someone to ask for food, It’s heartbreaking.”