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Hundreds of thousands of Ky. children to see boost in food assistance during start of school year

Liam Niemeyer
Ohio Valley ReSource

Hundreds of thousands of Kentucky children in low-income households will be getting extra federal food assistance through the start of the school year, something that anti-hunger advocates say is crucial given higher rates of food insecurity seen in the state over the summer.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) created the Summer Pandemic EBT program last year to provide extra money to feed low-income children who qualify for free or reduced lunch during the school year, given that school is out of session with children not receiving regular meals at school.

According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, the latest round of Summer P-EBT funding will give $391 for each eligible student to families no later than October. The money will be uploaded to an Electronic Benefits Transfer card, similar to how other food assistance is allocated.

Cassidy Wheeler, advocacy coordinator for the food bank network Feeding Kentucky, said giving families money directly through EBT cards provides needed flexibility when it comes to what kind of food families are able to buy.

“Families have the freedom to use this card at grocery stores whenever they're able to go and get this food, you know, that they can prepare later,” Wheeler said.

While the regulatory approval for this summer program only happened last month, Wheeler said, the money will still be a boost for families. The cabinet estimates about 580,000 school-aged children will receive more than $225 million in benefits for this latest round of Summer P-EBT.

This additional benefit for families comes with the number of food-insecure people in Kentucky this summer being higher than last summer. Inflation on food prices is also creating further food insecurity as it hits low-income households especially hard. According to the latest U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey as of July 11, more than 438,000 Kentuckians reported having sometimes or often “not enough to eat.” Last summer around the same time, that number was over 315,000.

Kelly Taulbee, director of communications for the advocacy group Kentucky Voices for Health, said the food funding is especially important given that some families are struggling in the aftermath of deadly floods in eastern Kentucky and past tornadoes in western Kentucky.

“You have families who have lost just everything overnight. I mean, it makes it that much more unique and special and absolutely important,” Taulbee said.

The USDA and the state government have also approved disaster food benefits for counties impacted by devastating floods last month.

Taulbee isn’t sure what the future of the P-EBT program looks like, but she believes other anti-hunger advocates will continue to maintain and strengthen the current safety net for food. In recent months, other pandemic-era supports for food-insecure families have been downsized or put into limbo due to actions by both Congress and the state legislature.

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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