HomeSouth CarolinaMissed opportunity: South Carolina joins GOP-led states and rejects federal money aimed...

Missed opportunity: South Carolina joins GOP-led states and rejects federal money aimed at helping children in need

South Carolina – The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced that 35 states, all five U.S. territories, and four tribes plan to be the first to launch the new, permanent summer grocery benefits program for children – known as Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer – in summer 2024. South Carolina decided not to participate in the program joining other GOP-led states like Florida, Georgia and Texas and several more states.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates up to 20 million American kids will be better able to access food this summer through a new, federal program.

“After consultation with the Department of Social Services leadership, the governor has decided that South Carolina will not participate in the 2024 Summer EBT program,” DSS Chief External Affairs Officer Connelly-Anne Ragley said in a statement.

Summer EBT program helps families with lower incomes

The Summer EBT program helps families with lower incomes, especially those who get free or cheap meals for their kids during school days. This is for households earning less than 185% of the federal poverty limit, which is roughly $55,000 yearly for a family with four members.

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Each family would get an EBT card for the summer, with $40 added every month for June, July, and August. This adds up to $120. They can spend this money at supermarkets, farmers markets, and places where SNAP benefits are accepted.

South Carolina turns down federal government program aimed to helping feeding children in need during the summer

“For a state that says we prioritize children, this was a missed opportunity,” Sue Berkowitz of South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center said.

Summer EBT, a new and lasting version of Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT), replaces the temporary COVID-era food program for kids. South Carolina’s Governor Henry McMaster emphasized the need to progress beyond the COVID era. He mentioned that the state already has several programs like the federal one in place.

Federal government only covers half of the total cost

South Carolina used P-EBT until last summer. Starting in 2024, Summer EBT will take over, but there are some key differences. For P-EBT, the federal government paid all costs. However, with Summer EBT, states must cover half of the administrative expenses.

The state is waiting for more details from the USDA on how to run Summer EBT and its costs. South Carolina won’t know its budget for this program until mid-February, while lawmakers are still working on the overall budget.

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The USDA asked states by January 1 if they would join Summer EBT and was giving new guidance right before this deadline.

Berkowitz thinks South Carolina should have agreed to join by January 1. She says if funding wasn’t available later, the state could still back out. By not sending this agreement to the USDA, she feels South Carolina lost the chance to offer Summer EBT in 2024.

In the U.S., 35 states, five territories, and four tribes have shown interest in joining Summer EBT, a program the federal government believes will help nearly 21 million kids get food. However, since these letters of intent aren’t final, some might still decide not to participate as summer approaches.

Looking at the states near South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, both with Republican governors, have chosen not to join. In contrast, Tennessee, also under Republican leadership, and North Carolina, with a Democratic governor, have sent letters agreeing to participate.

South Carolina has similar programs in place through its Department of Education

South Carolina already runs summer feeding programs for children through its Department of Education, mainly in group settings. Rural areas have options to make these programs more reachable.

Berkowitz highlighted that Summer EBT would have offered even greater flexibility for eligible children to get food in the summer months.

“There are programs out there that feed these kids. This is nothing new. This is just a much more efficient and direct way to make sure it happens,” she said.

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States that choose not to join Summer EBT in 2024 still have the option to participate in 2025.

Officials in South Carolina have stated that in the coming years, they will assess the effectiveness of this program in other states and check if they have the necessary funds before deciding whether to join.

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