Foresight on Food Politics

Search Farmer Goes to Market

Search Site
Thursday April 26, 2018
Should EBT replace summer school lunch?

Now that Nebraska children have returned to school, experts predict a large share will, overnight, have better access to reliable healthy meals through the federal program that cuts the cost of school lunches for poor families. During the school year, the federal government subsidizes free and reduced-price lunches for an estimated 22 million schoolkids in this country; on average, 41 percent of Nebraska schoolkids eat free or at a discount—more than 90 percent in some districts.

But in summer, that number drops to under 4 million across the country, distributed through 50,000 locations. That inaccessibility by most kids who aren't in summer school has led some policymakers and advocates to be concerned about whether those school-age children are going hungry during the summer.

To test that question, Congress earmarked funding as part of the 2010 Agriculture Appropriations Act to increase the amount of EBT funds it sends to those households getting free school lunch in a handful of test-pilot locations. The "Summer EBT for Children" increased payments to households with school-age children who, in the prior school year, had been on the reduced-price and free lunch programs. A total of ten state and Indian-reservation agencies in 16 sites participated in the evaluation. Over the course of the pilot's three years, program benefits were distributed randomly to about 100,000 households.

"The findings are simple and dramatic," according to a new report on the pilot's results, soon to be published in the journal Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy: A $60 per-child monthly SEBTC benefit reduced the level of so-called very low food security among children by one-third—a three percentage-point decline from a control group level of 9.1 percent. Very low food security means someone in the household was hungry at some point in time but could not afford to eat. The benefit increase also reduced food insecurity among children by one-fifth—an 8.3 percentage-point decline from a control group level of 43.0 percent. Food insecurity means someone in the household may have been able to eat whenever hungry, but couldn't afford to eat what they wanted at some point.

Affect of additional summer EBT payments on food security

Additional benefits also improved the food security for the adults in the household alongside the children, the study shows, and the impact may have been even larger among households the poorer they were. These results, the authors write, suggest that a nationwide SEBTC-like program would have substantial impacts on child, adult and household food security. Funding for such a nationwide implementation of the benefits program that would shift food purchasing subsidies from schools to retail grocers would have to be passed by Congress, likely as part of the next Farm Bill coming in 2018. Interested retailers should monitor developments closely, as changes are likely to be complicated by a concurrent move to possibly block-grant SNAP funding to states.

Add comment

Security code


In patnership with the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association

The Nebraska Grocery Industry Association was formed in 1903 by a group of Omaha grocery store owners, wholesalers and vendors to allow them to promote independent food merchants and members of the food industry, and to promote education and cooperation among its membership. NGIA continues to represent grocery store owners and operators, along with wholesalers and vendors located throughout Nebraska, by promoting their success through proactive government relations, innovative solutions and quality services. NGIA offers efficient and economical programs. NGIA also lobbies on both a state and national level, ensuring that the voice of the food industry in Nebraska is heard by our representatives.

Supported by the Nebraska Corn Board

The Nebraska Corn Board, on behalf of 23,000 corn farmers in Nebraska, invests in market development, research, promotion and education of corn and value-added products. The board aims to work closely with the farmer-to-consumer food chain, to educate everyone about the role corn has in our everyday healthy lives. The Nebraska Corn Board is proud to sponsor the Farmer Goes to Market program to help bring its mission of expanding demand and value of Nebraska corn to the consumer, through the strongest touch point in that chain: the Nebraska retail grocer.

Supported by the Nebraska Farm Bureau

The farm and ranch families represented by Nebraska Farm Bureau are proud sponsors of the Farmer Goes to Market program. We take great pride in supporting Nebraska's agricultural foundation. A key part of that effort is to make sure we produce safe and affordable food. This newsletter is an important part of our effort to connect the two most important parts of the food chain -- the farmer and the grocer -- with the goal of increasing consumer awareness and information about how their food is raised in Nebraska.

S5 Box