More than a dozen governors have joined in opening a new and particularly cruel chapter in the GOP’s ongoing attempt to be against anything the Biden White House supports.

The Republican governors are touting their rejection of millions of dollars in federal funding to feed low-income children during the summer, when school meals aren’t available. They’re apparently more eager for another chance to thumb their nose at the Biden administration even if it means depriving hungry children of food.

The Summer EBT, or Electronic Benefits Transfer program, provides pre-loaded debit cards that can be used to buy food at grocery stores, farmers markets and a few qualified retailers. The amount is modest: $40 per child per month, capped at $120 over the summer break. That’s just about enough to provide milk and a few fresh fruits and vegetables – if you’re a careful shopper.

States that sign up agree to pay half the administrative costs. The federal government pays the entire cost of the benefit, about $2.5 billion for 2024, and rest of the administrative costs. After being tested in several states, this is the first year the program will be available nationwide, and it is expected to be ongoing.

Yet, those such as Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds are willing to forego even these meager amounts. Reynolds, in a news release, said that “an EBT card does nothing to promote nutrition at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic.” She said the program was “not sustainable” and that it doesn’t “provide long-term solutions for the issues impacting children and families.”

Perhaps not, but the program does go a long way toward filling kids’ empty bellies over the long months when free and reduced-price school breakfast and lunch – which many poor and low-income families rely on – are unavailable.


Reynolds’ callous remarks also reinforce a terrible stereotype about children living in poverty, while also denying the sad reality that fresh meat, milk, fruit and vegetables are costly compared with junk carbs and heavily processed foods with little nutritive value – the true contributors to childhood obesity.

And somehow, parents – treated by some of these same states as all-knowing, unerring sources when it comes to banning books and censoring school curriculum – are considered too ignorant to make good food choices for their children.

Reynolds added that “if the Biden administration and Congress want to make a real commitment to family well-being, they should invest in already existing programs and infrastructure at the state level and give us the flexibility to tailor them to our state’s needs.” Of course, the last time Reynolds was given that flexibility, she diverted millions of dollars in 2023 American Rescue Plan funds to send Iowa National Guard troops to the Texas border.

So far, 14 states, mostly in the Midwest and South, have joined Iowa in declining to participate. They are Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Wyoming.

The governors’ decision could have staggering results: An estimated 8 million children could be affected in these states alone. Moreover, many of these are agricultural states whose farmers surely would like to supply the fresh-food needs of those children.

In Iowa, the federal funding would been $29 million, which could help feed some 250,000 children over the summer. The blowback to Reynolds’ initial remarks was fierce enough to prompt this walk-back from a state health and human services spokesperson, who said, “We did not indicate that the Summer EBT program was linked to obesity, however, a cash benefit card with very few limitations on purchases does not achieve direct access to healthy meals for school-age children.”


Perhaps state officials should talk with the Iowa Food Bank, which in November distributed a record 2.15 million pounds of food to food-insecure families across the state. CEO Michelle Book said at the time that “We see no end in sight.”

Food insecurity is different from hunger. Hunger can be abated by eating a bag of chips or a bowl of oatmeal. Food insecurity is the lack of safe, nutritious food needed to sustain life and health. Its close companion is malnutrition. The National Institutes of Health have, in fact, found a strong link between food insecurity and obesity.

According to the Food and Research Action Center , an anti-hunger nonprofit, food insecurity is most pervasive and deepest in rural areas, and is highest in the South and Midwestern states.

There are some bright spots: 35 governors, including 13 Republicans, have signed up. Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier this year that “making sure no Arkansan goes hungry, especially children, is a top concern for my administration. … Summer EBT promises to be an important new tool to give Arkansas children the food and nutrition they need.”

In a smart move, Arkansas also will ensure that children whose families are on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), automatically qualify for the summer food cards.

Sanders, former press secretary to President Donald Trump, is a staunch Republican. But she’s not letting differences with the White House get in the way of her ability to help ensure better nutrition for her state’s children.

Compare that with Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen, who haughtily declared at a news conference that “I don’t believe in welfare.”

For the record, 1 in 10 Nebraskans lives in poverty, according to the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research. The poverty rate for children below the age of 5 in 2022 was 14%. One in every nine poor Nebraskans was on government assistance in 2022.

Children, sadly, make lousy advocates because they can’t vote. Pillen and the other governors should shed their cynical politics at least long enough to feed kids who may have few other options this summer.

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