Mississippi chooses not to participate in federal summer food program, Governor Reeves cites opposition to expanding the ‘welfare state’

According to Gov. Tate Reeves’ office, Mississippi will not be taking part in a federal summer food program for children. This decision is fueled by the governor’s intention to oppose any efforts aimed at expanding the welfare state.

Officials at the state’s welfare agency, which is overseen by Reeves, provided a different explanation for their decision to opt out of the program. They cited a lack of state resources as the primary reason for not participating, especially considering their previous involvement in a similar federal program during the earlier stages of the pandemic.

The Summer EBT program aims to support families of students who typically receive free or reduced lunch during the school year. Under this program, eligible families will be provided with electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards, which can be used to purchase groceries during the summer. Each eligible child will receive $40 per month, totaling $120 for the summer.

In its inaugural year, the program will witness the participation of thirty-five states, all five U.S. territories, and four Tribes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture anticipates that this initiative will bring about positive outcomes for nearly 21 million children. However, several states, namely Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Wyoming, have chosen not to partake in the program.

Mississippi used to oversee the pandemic EBT program, which granted a comparable summer benefit and offered assistance throughout the school year if schools predominantly operated virtually or in a hybrid manner for at least one month. The federal government fully covered the expenses of running the program during the pandemic, but the new summer edition would necessitate states to bear half of the administrative costs. This has been cited as a reason by other states for not participating.

Mark Jones, a spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS), stated that both the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) and DHS do not have sufficient resources, including workforce capacity and funding, to facilitate a Summer EBT Program.

According to Chalkbeat, some Republican governors in other states have also expressed their opposition to expanding federal benefits as the reason for their decision not to participate in the program.

In a statement released by his office on Thursday, Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson squarely placed the blame on Reeves for the state’s decision to opt out of the program.

Tate Reeves deserves criticism for denying essential food assistance to eligible children during the summer, a decision that has had significant consequences for multiple families. These federal funds could have provided crucial support to parents and guardians in ensuring that their children are adequately fed throughout the summer.

According to Shelby Wilcher, Reeves’ spokesperson, when asked about Reeves’ decision to opt out of the federal program, she highlighted the availability of existing programs that already assist in providing meals for children during the summer.

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“It’s misleading for Representative Thompson to suggest that children will lack the necessary support if they opt out of a program that was initially designed as a temporary response to the pandemic,” she remarked.

The Summer Food Service Program, which serves meals on-site in low-income communities, will be continued by the Mississippi Department of Education.

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