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Report: Permanent Summer Food Program Would Benefit ID Kids

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Summer usually coincides with a troubling spike in childhood hunger while kids are out of school, but a program set up during the pandemic could show the path to feeding more children every summer.

Students who receive free or reduced-price lunches during the school year struggle to get meals over the summer. Federal nutrition programs only reach one in seven of these students, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Senior policy analyst at the Center, Zoe Neuberger said the gap exists for a number of reasons: Parents might not know the programs exist, don't have a site nearby, or don't have flexibility at work to bring their kids to the sites.

"That's why just a small share of the children who qualify and get meals during the school year get them during the summer," Neuberger said. "As a result of that, we can see in the research that childhood hunger does increase during the summer for school-age children."

The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) started last summer and provides grocery benefits instead of school meals while kids were out of school.

More than 120,000 Idaho children are eligible for P-EBT this summer, according to the Center. Neuberger said Idaho's P-EBT plan has not yet been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

She said the USDA already had a model for providing food benefits while school is out. For the past decade, it has carried out summer EBT pilot programs. Neuberger said Congress should make the program permanent and available nationwide, and added there is a risk to not taking advantage of the opportunity.

"There are, nationwide, about 30 million children who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals during the school year," Neuberger said. "And if this program isn't extended once the temporary program expires after next summer, they would be at risk of going back to that pattern of child hunger increasing during the summer."

President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan included $25 billion over the next decade for the summer EBT program.