Republican Governors in 15 States Reject Food Money for 8 Million Children

GOP governors in over a dozen states are rejecting a new federal food assistance program to give 8 million children from lower-income families support this summer. The program is expected to serve 21 million children starting in June, providing $2.5 billion in relief across the U.S.

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Thirty-five states, including 13 with Republican governors, have enrolled in the plan, which provides an extra $120 per child to buy food during the summer months. Such assistance is unavailable in schools during this period, where many children rely on free or reduced lunch programs.

The plan was part of a bipartisan budget agreed upon in Congress two years ago. But GOP governors in over a dozen states with some of the highest rates of child poverty are turning it down.

The governors have given varying reasons for their refusal to take part, from the cost to the fact that the plan’s final details haven’t been decided. Others gave more dismissive, ideologically driven objections. Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen bluntly told The Journal Star, “I don’t believe in welfare.”

Kevin Stitt, the governor of Oklahoma, said the plan adds “more bureaucracy for families to wade through.” Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said she didn’t see the need to add money to the program that helps child food insecurity “when childhood obesity has become an epidemic.”

Tate Reeves, the governor of the state with the highest rates of food insecurity and child poverty in the U.S., Mississippi, dismissed the program as an attempt by President Joe Biden and other Democrats to “expand the welfare state.”

A recent U.S. Census Bureau report revealed that over 22 percent of households in Mississippi do not have enough food to maintain a healthy diet. Twenty-eight percent of children in the Magnolia State live in poverty, almost twice as much as the national average.

GOP leaders have been criticized for playing politics with children’s access to food. They argue it is required to revert to pre-COVID-19 spending levels when the U.S. has trillions of dollars of debt and lawmakers in the capital struggle to reach a budget agreement.

“It’s sad,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “There isn’t really a political reason for not doing this. This is unfortunate. I think governors may not have taken the time or made the effort to understand what this program is and what it isn’t.”

The U.S. Agriculture Department recently said that 35 states, all five U.S. territories, and four Native American tribes said they would participate in the program. It will provide families on incomes below the poverty line who already receive school lunches for free or at a reduced price with $120 per child to buy food at approved retailers.

The USDA hailed it as “a giant step forward” in meeting the needs of American families during the summer months, when food assistance in schools is unavailable.

“When the school year ends, millions of children from households with low incomes lose access to the school meals they rely on,” said Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center.

Those who work with families in states where the plan has been turned down said the impact would be devastating and increase the pressure on private food banks. Hunger in the U.S. is rising as pandemic aid programs wind down and food costs skyrocket. According to the USDA, food insecurity rates rose 4.8 percent from 2021 to 2022.