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The Reflector

Reeves opts out of food aid program

Mississippi+Governor+Tate+Reeves+at+a+digital+equity+rally+last+year.
Courtesy Photo | Katie Fernandez
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves at a digital equity rally last year.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, along with governors from 15 other states, recently opted out of a federal program that would provide families with school-age children grocery benefits in the summer.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2024 Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program, also known as Summer EBT, provides eligible families with $40 per month, totaling $120 per child in federally funded EBT over the summer. This program aims to ensure that children who receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year, about 340,000 in the state of Mississippi, do not go hungry during the summer months.

Mississippi did not opt in by the Jan. 1, 2024 deadline.

The summer program would replace the Pandemic EBT program, P-EBT, which Mississippi administered throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to provide meals while schools were closed. However, while the P-EBT program was completely funded by the federal government, the Summer EBT program requires participating states to cover half of the program’s expenses.

Reeves’ press secretary, Shelby Wilcher, said in her statement on the topic that the program was originally meant to be a temporary, pandemic-era program.

“The pandemic is over; and it’s time for state leaders to step up and reject Joe Biden and Democrats’ best attempts to expand the welfare state. That’s what Governor Reeves has done and will continue to do,” Wilcher said.

However, Jane Scott, President of Project Homestead Food Pantry in West Point is confused by Reeves’ decision.

“I think we seem to help the wealthiest much more than we do the people in need,” Scott said.

Mark Jones, Chief Communications Officer of Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS), stated that MDHS and Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) would not have been able to support the program this year with their current resources.

“After conferring with the Mississippi Department of Education, both MDE and MDHS lack the resources, including workforce capacity and funding to support a Summer EBT Program,” Jones said.

Representative Bennie Thompson from Mississippi’s 2nd congressional district criticized Reeves’ decision in a recent statement.

“Many families in Mississippi have children who qualify for free and reduced lunch, making school-based meal programs a cornerstone of their nutritional intake. With the absence of EBT Summer Program, families are left to navigate the complexities on their own,” Thompson said.

Press Secretary Wilcher said there are already programs in place that fill needs for food insecure families, and that opting out of Summer EBT does not mean that Mississippi is leaving families unsupported.

“Mississippi already has longstanding programs in place that help feed children during summer months. It’s disingenuous for Representative Thompson to insinuate that children won’t get the support they need by not participating in something that was originally intended to be a temporary pandemic-era program,” Wilcher said.

These programs include the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) as well as the Seamless Summer Option which are both funded by the USDA and work to provide children with meals during the summer in schools and other centralized locations.

According to the USDA, the Seamless Summer Option allows schools to continue feeding children during vacation periods while the SFSP allows approved sponsors to provide meals to children and be reimbursed by the state agency.

The Mississippi Department of Education’s director of child nutrition, Scott Clements, said eligibility for these programs is not based on applications but on whether your area is eligible to participate. Clements stated that almost everywhere in Mississippi is eligible, even in places that are considered higher-income areas.

However, both of the programs rely heavily on someone being able to transport the kids to and from these locations, which can be a significant issue for parents who have to work during meal times. The Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District only administers the programs through June, according to Elizabeth Williams, program manager at Project Peace within the school district.

Williams said there are several other regional resources for Starkville that help food-insecure families. She mentioned that there are multiple food pantries and programs that provide some groceries across the area as well as Casserole Kitchen, which is a coalition of churches that provide a meal three times a week.

“I guess what I really want to say is that I do think that at least in this community, I can’t speak for other communities in the state, but we are trying really hard to fill gaps,” Williams said.

Scott mentioned community efforts to feed families, discussing how families would not be able to get by without these efforts and how this is done with no help from the governor.

“We have a food pantry here in West Point, and the nicest people that you’ll ever want to meet, and they’re doing the very best they can and come there each month, and they couldn’t make it if they didn’t,” Scott said. “That’s not thanks to Tate Reeves. That’s thanks to the Mississippi Food Network and the extra table out of Harrisburg and donations locally.”

Mississippi will have another chance to opt into the program for the summer of 2025.

About the Contributor
Ivy Rose Ball, Photography Editor
Ivy Rose Ball is a junior communication major from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. She currently serves as the Photography Editor. [email protected]
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    BeckyJan 25, 2024 at 11:06 am

    Tate Reeves, if your child was hungry and you were not able to provide food, what would you do? Ahh yes, you are able to provide, so that means others can go without.
    There are SO many people in Mississippi that work 40 hours or more per week, yet, because of rent, car notes, utilities etc, are not able to afford food for the children. Could be one child or more.
    Yes, there are food banks available, thanks to people who donate, however, it would be nice if parents could get a good lunch for the children. Children should Not be penalized
    This is not good for the people of Mississippi or other states.

    Reply