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Republicans making kids go hungry is predictable. Pay attention anyway

3 min read

Every time I'm in the grocery store, I hear a recorded announcement letting parents know that there's a new program to help them feed their kids over the summer when school is out. It's called Summer EBT or SUN Bucks, and it provides up to $120 per child through the long break from school. Eligibility is simple – kids who qualify for free or reduced price school lunch qualify for Summer EBT. Or anyway, eligibility is simple in most states. 

The existence of the new program is big in the sense that it's the first new federal food assistance program in decades. It's not so big in the sense that summer break is around 10 weeks long. By that standard the new benefit is about $12 per child per week. If you take summer to be three months, it's $40 per month. 

But of course that small sum is too much for many Republican governors. Though the program passed with bipartisan support, 15 Republican governors initially dragged their feet. In the end, some caved. But 12 states refused the food aid, depriving around 9.5 million kids of that $12 of extra food every week through the summer. Sorry, food-insecure children of Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Your governors don't care if you're hungry this summer. Or maybe they actively want that. 

This amount offered by the program is small but significant. To take some possibilities from the limited list of foods included in the Bureau of Labor Statistics average retail food prices, $12 could be a dozen eggs, two pounds of bananas, a pound of rice, a pound of potatoes, two pounds of bone-in chicken legs, and a pound of tomatoes. Or it could be a gallon of milk, a pound of ground beef, a pound of pasta, and a pound of oranges. Or it could be a half gallon of ice cream and a pound of chocolate chip cookies, because everyone deserves a treat sometimes.

None of these are likely enough to feed a kid for a week. Two eggs, a banana, a cup of cooked rice, a single chicken drumstick, and maybe half a tomato is not an adequate amount of daily food. It's around 620 calories. But it's not nothing. (The difficulty of getting adequate calories from fresh foods on a budget is one of many reasons people turn to processed and packaged foods. In fact, a Summer EBT pilot program found that kids who got the benefit ate more nutritious foods, and that getting a higher benefit increased that effect.)

Unfortunately, kids and families in many of these states are accustomed to politics designed to harm them: Six out of the 10 states with the highest food insecurity rates refused extra food for kids. Two years ago, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves was bragging about a "culture of life" as he signed laws intended to make it look like he was helping women forced to remain pregnant. Those laws offered tax credits for adoption and for donations to organizations that distribute diapers and other assistance for pregnant women and new mothers. Got that? The state wasn't going to just offer any of that directly. It wasn't going to offer financial help to people who needed it as a direct result of the state's abortion ban. But if a person or business with a lot of money made a donation, they would get a tax credit. Refusing to accept largely free federal money (states have to pay part of the administrative costs of Summer EBT) is right in line with this.

Mississippi isn't alone here, by the way. Would it shock you to learn that of these 12 states refusing extra food for needy kids, seven have abortion laws classified as "most restrictive" by the Guttmacher Institute, while another two are "very restrictive" and two are "restrictive"? Alaska is the only state denying kids food over the summer that has abortion protections.

Republicans insisting that denying women bodily autonomy is a culture of life while arguing that providing needy children with food is unnecessary and wasteful is nothing new or surprising. This is who they are. But it's important not to wave it off because it's who they are. We have to dwell on the specifics of what that means: Parents desperately combing grocery stores for a discount that will let them feed their kids. Kids going to bed hungry at night anyway. And those things happening so that Republicans could make a political point.


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