The Des Moines Register

Iowa expands kids’ summer meal program

State was criticized for declining $29M in EBT aid

- F. Amanda Tugade Des Moines Register USA TODAY NETWORK

Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Education announced a new plan Wednesday to help school districts and community organizati­ons feed youth in need during the summer.

Through the Summer Meal Program Expansion Grant, $900,000 in competitiv­e grants are now up for grabs for local groups seeking to offer healthy meals and snacks to children and teens over summer break, according to a news release. The latest initiative comes nearly three months after Reynolds drew criticism from anti-hunger leaders on her decision to opt out of the federal government-run Summer EBT program for low-income families.

Iowa is one of 17 states that declined to participat­e in the Summer EBT program this year, effectivel­y turning down around $29 million in federal food aid for low-income families in the form of grocery debit cards. Reynolds, a Republican, pointed to the state being in the top 10 in the nation for high school age obesity and said EBT programs don’t have a strong enough focus on nutrition.

The latest initiative from the governor and the state department is a supplement to the federal dollars organizati­ons already receive through the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option, two nutrition programs headed by the U.S. Department of Agricultur­e.

“Providing young Iowans with access to free, nutritious meals in their communitie­s during the summer months has always been a priority,” Reynolds said in a news release. “With the Summer Meal Program Expansion Grant, we will expand these well-establishe­d programs across our state to ensure Iowa’s youth have meals that are healthy and use local community farms and vendors

when possible.”

But Democratic Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott said the state’s new grant program is “tiny” compared to the $29 million it could have received from the federal Summer EBT program. She said these are “crumbs for Iowa kids” and “forces Iowa communitie­s to compete for a sliver of that much-smaller pie.”

“It’s not enough to meet the real needs facing our state,” she said. “And it doesn’t make up for her decision to let Iowa kids go hungry.”

Rep. Sami Scheetz, D-Cedar Rapids, also voiced concerns over the effort, calling the program a “labyrinth of red tape,” “a convoluted mess” and “a clear downgrade” from the aid provided by Summer EBT. He believes the plan “fails to guarantee” that children will be fed.

“It relies heavily on local organizati­ons to step up and fill gaps, demanding that they jump through hoops for funding that still might not meet all logistical needs, especially in rural or underserve­d areas,” Scheetz said in a lengthy statement. “... We’re trading a direct, proven method for fighting hunger with a scattered approach that leaves too much to chance and too many children behind.”

According to the news release, the grant program is funded by American Rescue Plan Act dollars. Applicatio­ns are open through end of day May 7 for schools, nonprofits, community organizati­ons and local government­s.

Prospectiv­e new meal sites must be located in an area where at least 50 percent or more of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Priority considerat­ion will be given to applicants that establish a new open meal site, where all children ages 18 and younger are served.

For details, go to

“It’s not enough to meet the real needs facing our state, and it doesn’t make up for (Gov. Kim Reynolds’) decision to let Iowa kids go hungry.” State Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott

 ?? MICHAEL ZAMORA/THE REGISTER ?? Raelyn Bailey, 10, eats lunch June 27, 2018, at Capitol View Elementary in Des Moines.
MICHAEL ZAMORA/THE REGISTER Raelyn Bailey, 10, eats lunch June 27, 2018, at Capitol View Elementary in Des Moines.

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