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USDA program to provide Wisconsin families support to feed kids while school is out for summer


Wisconsin is the first in the nation to put in place a Summer EBT program to help families feed kids over the summer months.

Created by the U.S. Congress, the Summer EBT program is based on similar efforts used during the coronavirus pandemic to address food insecurity for kids.

During the school year, there are that districts provide up to two meals for kids.

When school lets out for the summer, there are families that struggle with filling that gap by no longer having those meals provided. To help with that, Governor Evers announced last week that Wisconsin will take part in the federal Summer EBT program.

Starting this summer, families that meet the requirements will get a one-time benefit of $120 per child. It’s expected to be made available at the end of June.

The money goes to an EBT card that families can use to buy groceries.

"First of all, this is a huge step forward. For the government itself to recognize that the children who are challenged during the school year are equally or greater challenge during the summertime, is a real revelation,” said Perry Pokrandt, president of Feed Our Rural Kids.

He says it’s a great thing but doesn’t go far enough.

According to Feeding America, the average meal cost in the Northwoods is more than $3.50 per meal, with Vilas County being one of the most expensive in the area at $3.73 per meal. Summer break typically lasts about 10 weeks for Northwoods districts, which means the Summer EBT program comes out to about $10 per week for families that qualify.

“So this [the Summer EBT] is less than a than a quarter meal a day. That's not enough. Now, it's a great step forward, but it's still inadequate for helping families who are challenged by, all of a sudden, having to replace two meals a day which kids get at school.”

Pokrandt also worries about the income restrictions tied to the funding.

The benefits will automatically go to families that participate in other benefit programs like FoodShare or the free or reduced-price meal program at their school.

“The reality is that food insecurity is not 100% money driven, it is circumstance driven. Things happen in families, deaths, sicknesses, loss of jobs, all those kinds of things that can take a family whose income doesn't qualify them for this help, and put them into a food insecure situation,” said Pokrandt.

Pokrandt says it reaffirms the need for programs like FORK and local food pantries to fill the gap for food insecure homes in the region.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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