Summer grocery program to feed WA kids launching soon

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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.

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.”

by Laurel Demkovich, Washington State Standard

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: Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.

  1. So much government spending so many new programs equals more government jobs, wonder what the unemployment rate would be I we didn’t have a giant expanse of government jobs? Did I mention government is broke? I currently don’t know what the pay amount is but when my kids were receiving the free or reduced lunch and we were getting food stamps we basically had more than we could eat. I guess living in poverty and eating steak and lobster go hand in hand in this state. Food for thought.

    1. well that’s a pretty ignorant response because if you actually look up food prices and how many food stamps the average household gets there’s no steak and lobster in fact me and my son get to eat for like a week and a half out of the month off our food stamps .

      1. Ignorant humm. I grew a frugal household I was 12 years old before we stopped buying powdered milk money was always tight but between sales and coupons we didn’t go hungry. As a adult in a low wage job the shopping for value continued. Then came the hard times 3 children no child support and a low wage job. I really only applied for health insurance for the kids. But received so much more. I would go to the food bank once a week the amount of groceries I would receive would outweigh my wages for the day, so why work that day? I don’t know what spectrum you are on but for me over time I built up a balance on our food card. Maybe my children didn’t have the flavor for expensive food like you and your son do. I don’t know. We spent less than the program gave us is this ignorance? After about a year our balance was close to 700 dollars. But yet the future was unsure, should I start splurging? Yes we did a few papa Murphy pizzas and a occasional subway that were allowed on the card. We didn’t have steak and lobster but once in a blue moon but yes the food program did afford it. I even had money left at the end. Ignorance?

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