USDA, Mississippi,school lunch, children, students

Mississippi Opts Out of Free Summer Food Program While Leading The Country In Food Insufficiency 

One would think they would want to do something about being last in hunger...

Mississippi is one of several states opting out of a new summer free food program for hungry children.

The state won’t participate in the newly permanent federal program, announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, called the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program (Summer EBT). The programs are designed to supplement existing summer programs with limited capacity.

All five U.S. territories, four tribes, and 35 states are joining in to ensure all children have access to food.

“No child in this country should go hungry,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “They certainly shouldn’t go hungry because they lose access to nutritious school meals during the summer months.”

The program is expected to benefit nearly 21 million beginning in the summer of 2024.

Mississippi and 13 other states, including Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming, chose not to participate. Nebraska, Iowa, and Oklahoma cited existing programs to feed hungry children; however, if states change their minds, they can opt in during the summer of 2025. 

The Cherokee Nation tribe is participating and said it was an easy decision.

“I think we’re seeing a lot of pressures on households in terms of rent or other housing costs, all of that hitting very finite household budgets,” National Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “This puts a dent in that overall problem by empowering parents to just simply be able to go out and purchase more food and some healthy options that are available.”

With their headquarters in Oklahoma – which opted out – Hoskin is anticipating receiving more applications from non-tribal citizens living on the reservation

In 2023, Mississippi was listed as one of the states with the highest food insufficiency rates. According to U.S. News & World Report, the state came in at 22.6% of food insufficiency across the American South. Between 2019 and 2021, food insecurity in the state averaged 15.3%, making it the hungriest state with a food insecurity rate of 32% over the national average of 10.4%. 

Eligibility for free or reduced-price lunches requires families to be at or under 185% of the federal poverty line. Eligible families will receive $40 per month per child during the summer months, totaling $120 for each child. All funds will be loaded on an EBT card that can be used in stores participating in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.