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NY opts into summer program to give low-income families $40 a month for food

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New York state will enroll in a new federal program that will provide low-income families with $40 per child monthly during the summer to help with food costs.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office told Gothamist on Thursday that the state will alert the federal government it will participate in the Summer EBT for Children program, a subsidy meant to help families pay for groceries while school is out of session.

Roughly 2 million children across the state are expected to be eligible. The additional subsidy would be available to any children who are eligible for free or reduced lunch during the school year.

Each state faces a Jan. 1 deadline to opt into the program, which has become a flashpoint in the ongoing culture war over government subsidies for low-income families.

About half of states signaled they intend to opt in as of Wednesday, including New Jersey. Some Republican governors — including in Iowa and Nebraska — have refused to participate.

“Our kids need healthy, nutritious food to grow and thrive,” Hochul said in a statement. “This new federal funding will be a critical lifeline for families struggling to make ends meet.”

The federal government will cover the cost of the actual subsidy, estimated at around $200 million in New York, and split administrative costs with the state.

Until Thursday, Hochul hadn’t signaled whether New York would participate, despite pressure from anti-childhood hunger advocates and dozens of state lawmakers to opt in.

Thirty-two state lawmakers — 27 Democrats and five Republicans — this week signed onto a letter, organized by Queens Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, asking Hochul to join the program.

“The Summer EBT program provides an efficient and effective way to provide nourishment to vulnerable New York State children and we urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that our state’s children have access to the Summer EBT program in 2024,” according to the letter, which was shared with Gothamist.

Now, Hochul and lawmakers will need to come up with money to implement the program in the upcoming state budget, which is due to be finalized by April. New York will be responsible for 50% of the costs of administering the program.

In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration estimated its share of administrative costs would have been about $2.2 million. Iowa has about 241,000 eligible school-aged children, according to the Food Research and Action Center. New York has more than 2.1 million.

The $40 benefits will be restricted to food costs similar to those under another federally funded program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The additional EBT funding comes after the federal government in March stopped the extra $95 a month in additional SNAP benefits, a subsidy spurred by the pandemic.

It also comes after the federal government offered a temporary, pandemic-era EBT program for school-aged children during the summer.

Families will be able to use the new subsidy on fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, dairy, breads and snack foods. They won’t be able to use it on hot foods, pet food or alcoholic beverages, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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