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Helping Kids Have Access to Healthy Food During the Summer

Imagine you are a 3rd grader. You just got out of school in mid-June and you’re excited about having the summer off. There’s just one problem. You’re not quite sure where you will get your breakfast or lunch. Why? Because during the school year, you get breakfast and lunch at school.

The USDA has been piloting a program since the summer of 2011 to see the impact of providing a monthly electronic benefit during the summer to help minimize childhood hunger and poor nutrition. On August 1st, USDA released an evaluation which explores the impact of a new alternative delivery method for providing low income children with access to food during the summer months when school meals are not available.

The Summer EBT for Children (SEBTC) demonstration project tests the impact of providing a monthly household benefit of $60 per month per child through existing electronic benefit transfer (EBT) systems on food insecurity among low income children during the summer when school meals are not available. The SEBTC was authorized and funded by Congress in 2010. The SEBTC evaluation randomly assigned treatment and control households in 14 demonstration sites in 10 States and Indian Tribal Organizations.

During implementation, all 14 sites were able to successfully recruit and enroll households in spring 2012 and administer SEBTC benefits during the summer of 2012. Taken together, the 14 sites issued benefits to nearly 37,000 households with 66,800 eligible children.

In terms of benefit redemption, the evaluation states “across all sites, almost 90 percent of households who received SEBTC used the benefit at least once during summer. Participating households, on average, redeemed between 71 and 99 percent of their issued benefits, totaling $9.3 million in summer benefits…Across all sites 45 percent of households used all of their benefits in at least 1 month, and 30 percent spent all of their benefits for the summer.”

According to the evaluation report, the impact of SEBTC during the summer of 2012 included:

  • “Reaching a significant proportion of low income children eligible for free and reduced-price school meals. USDA’s evaluation found that the SEBTC approach could reach up to 75 percent of eligible children;
  • Reducing food insecurity among low income children. SEBTC reduced the prevalence of food insecurity among children by 19 percent, and the prevalence of very low food security among children, the most severe category, by 33 percent, compared to children who did not receive SEBTC benefits; and
  • Improving the diets of young, low-income Americans during the summer months. Participating children in households with SEBTC ate more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and dairy foods while consuming fewer sugar-sweetened beverages.”

This pilot program shows the continued need for programs that support the health and well-being of our children. The evaluation contains compelling data showing that it makes a difference in the food security of kids to leverage the EBT system and provide a benefit specifically targeted at kids’ health.  As celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s recent movie, A Place at the Table, so poignantly shows, 1 out of 2 kids in the U.S. at some point will be on food assistance.

The demonstration and evaluation of the SEBTC program will continue through the summer of 2013. As part of SEBTC this summer (2013), a new set of participating households are receiving a smaller benefit — $30 per month per child — to determine if similarly positive results can be obtained at a lower cost.

Let’s hope that this cost-saving measure still helps that 3rd grader get through the summer fed and healthy.

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