Georgia’s Decision to Opt-Out of Federal Summer EBT Program Sparks Advocacy for HB 321 – The Healthy Food Development Act

State Representative Sandra Scott says a decision by the state prompted her to introduce legislation on EBT benefits.

The Democrat lawmaker from Rex, Georgia made the announcement this week.

In a recent announcement, the governor’s office confirmed the state’s decision not to participate in the new, federal Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children (Summer EBT) program for the summer of 2024. The decision has significant implications, as it means rejecting tens of millions in federal funding intended to support low-income families and address child hunger during the summer months.

The state’s decision comes at a time when more than 30 states have indicated their participation in the federal program, which supplements existing Summer Nutrition Programs, SNAP and WIC. Eligible children, predominantly those qualifying for free or reduced lunch, would receive $120 in food benefits over the summer ($40 per month). However, Georgia’s opt-out leaves more than one million children in the state without access to these crucial benefits.

Advocates and supporters of child nutrition are calling attention to House Bill 321, The Healthy Food Development Program Act, a legislative proposal aimed at expanding access to healthy foods in eligible areas. The proposed program, if enacted, could play a crucial role in mitigating the impact of Georgia’s decision, by providing assistance to grocery stores, corner stores, farmers’ markets and other small food retailers in underserved areas.

The Healthy Food Development Program outlined in HB 321 offers various benefits, including grants, loans, state tax credits, equipment, financial assistance and technical assistance to eligible retailers. The program is designed to prioritize projects with the greatest potential impact in underserved areas, aligning with the goal of addressing child hunger in Georgia.

“Summer EBT would be one efficient way to help families put food on the table for their children,” said Kelcie Silvio, Senior Policy Analyst with Voices for Georgia’s Children. Advocates urge state leaders to reconsider participation in federal programs and emphasize the need for initiatives like HB 321 to ensure access to healthy foods for vulnerable populations.

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