Missouri begins distributing summer 2022 food benefits as deadline for 2023 application looms
After months of delay, the state began issuing food benefits designed to cover summer 2022 just last week — as other states gear up to disburse summer 2023 aid
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Missouri began distributing pandemic-relief summer food benefits that were designed to cover summer 2022 just last week.
Since last fall, thousands of families have been asking the state if and when they would receive the promised benefits, called summer Pandemic EBT — a federal COVID relief program administered by states.
The summer 2022 benefits were designed to provide a one-time deposit of $391 per eligible child. Like the regular federal food stamps program, the benefits are accessed via a debit card called electronic benefits transfer and used to purchase food.
Keahna Antrim, a mother of two in West Plains, said she checked her EBT account “every day for months and months.”
Last week brought “massive relief,” she said: She received the $391 deposit for one of her children on June 9 and for the other on June 10. She has used the benefits so far to purchase groceries for family dinners, including for a taco night.
“Not knowing when we would get it was frustrating,” she said, because “there was no way to incorporate it into your budget.”
“I am disappointed how [the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] handled the program,” she said. “They didn’t make an effort to keep anyone informed or updated.”
Most states finished dispersing the benefits by the end of 2022. Oklahoma began dispersing the benefits nearly a year before Missouri, in July 2022.
Now Missouri has fallen behind on applying for the final round of summer P-EBT benefits the federal government has approved, to cover summer 2023.
As other states prepare to issue summer 2023 benefits, Missouri is still in the midst of issuing hundreds of thousands of benefits from last year — potentially jeopardizing transferring the summer 2023 federal funds to desperate low-income families.
Missouri is one of only ten states that has not yet submitted a plan to the federal government for dispersing summer 2023 benefits, said Jan Rhodes, a spokesperson for the federal agency Food and Nutrition Services. The others are Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Texas.
The 2023 benefits would provide $120 for each school child eligible for free or reduced lunch during the 2022-2023 school year.
“If Missouri does not move quickly to submit its Pandemic EBT plan, 400,000 children will miss out on the food they need when school lets out,” said Crystal FitzSimons, director of School and Out-of-School Time Programs at the Food Research & Action Center Washington, D.C.
Fewer expected to benefit
The state began dispersing summer 2022 benefits last week, on June 6, said Mallory McGowin, spokesperson for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Children who qualified for subsidized school lunches in the 2021-2022 academic year are eligible, along with children under 6 who qualify for the federal food assistance program SNAP.
Missouri appears to be one of the last approved states to begin issuing summer 2022 benefits, if not the last. Two states, South Dakota and Alaska, did not have approved plans to issue summer P-EBT at all.
The extra benefits can easily double the amount a low-income family receives in standard food assistance. The average amount of benefits per Missouri household on food stamps, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, was just under $400 in March.
In the meantime, bills have piled up as families diverted much-needed money from things like utilities to cover the inflated cost of food. Some told The Independent they needed to borrow money from families and friends. Frustration has grown as families have sought and failed to receive information from the state, devoting hours to trying to find out where the benefits are and sharing information online. The state provided no timeline for months, after originally estimating the benefits would be dispersed by the end of 2022.
In Missouri’s plan for dispersing the benefits, they estimated 454,000 school children would qualify. The federal United States Department of Agriculture’s projections for the year prior also put the figure near Missouri’s estimate, at 456,000.
But McGowin said now they estimate there are “nearly 270,000 Missouri students” who will receive the benefits, based on the number of eligible students that schools submitted to the state. Schools were required to submit data to DESE listing eligible students before the Department of Social Services could issue them.
There are several potential explanations for the discrepancy, McGowin said.
“There’s no way to know in advance exactly how many students’ data will be submitted by districts,” she said.
“A student graduating early, moving out of state, having their household eligibility status changed, or opting not to receive the benefit…are among the factors that could lead to a student’s data not being submitted by their district.”
Around 172,000 students had received benefits as of June 7, McGowin said, more than half of their revised estimate. She did not provide a more recent update.
“Nearly 7,400” kids “have some kind of data issues that DESE and DSS are working to troubleshoot (i.e. missing information),” McGowin said.
For children who do not already have EBT cards (from being part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or previous iterations of P-EBT), McGowin said, they will be mailed a card. She said they “anticipate that all cards will be issued by Monday, July 17.”
The state hasn’t begun issuing benefits for children under age 6, McGowin said, which are for kids on the food stamp program SNAP. The state plan estimated there would be 157,900 children under age six who qualify.
Those will be dispersed after the student-aged population is complete, McGowin said.
One of the main hurdles to getting the benefits out sooner, officials have said, was that the state needed a new data collection portal to track students’ COVID-related absences, for the school-year benefits.
Pandemic EBT includes a more narrowly-targeted benefit for school year 2021-2022 for children who had COVID-related absences — which the state said it needed to administer before the summer benefits and involves more complicated data collection on the part of schools. They began issuing those school year benefits in February, McGowin said, and moved on to the summer program in May.
Summer 2023 uncertainty
Because of those delays, Missouri is still catching up on last year’s benefits while many states are poised to begin doling out summer 2023 benefits in the next few months.
This is the final summer that the federal government will provide Pandemic EBT benefits, and they are only for school-age children.
McGowin said the state has not decided whether it will participate in the summer 2023 program: “DESE and [DSS] officials are in the process of making this decision.”
The 2023 summer benefit would provide $120 per eligible child. At roughly 400,000 eligible children, that could mean the state losing out on roughly $48 million in federal food aid if it does seek approval and then distribute the aid by the deadlines.
“Summer should be a time of fun and making memories, not a time of hunger,” said Luis Guardia, president of Food Research & Action Center, in a press release.
Beginning next year, states will launch a program called Summer EBT for school-age children, not tied to the pandemic.
A survey of over 100 parents nationally who received Pandemic EBT conducted by Food Research & Action Center found nearly all of them reported the benefits “allowed them to worry less about having enough food,” and over half said the benefits enabled them to purchase more nutritious food.
“In addition to supporting struggling parents and families,” said FitzSimons, “participating this summer establishes an important bridge between the program currently operating and the permanent Summer EBT program that will begin in summer 2024.”
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.