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Oklahoma declines to participate in federal summer food program for children


Oklahoma is declining to participate in a federal summer food program.

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office says the state will not implement a federal summer food program for children because U.S. Department of Agriculture rules for it aren’t clear.

The Summer EBT Program would have covered $40 a month per child in grocery expenses for families with children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. Families would have received an EBT card, which can be used like cash at the grocery store.

The program became permanent this year through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023. States must cover half of the administrative costs to implement the program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates about 403,000 children would have been eligible in Oklahoma based on state-reported data from the 2022-23 school year. Overall, about one in five Oklahoma children face food insecurity, according to the most recent children's well-being report from Kids Count.

As of Jan. 3, 38 states, territories and tribal nations announced their intent to launch the program this summer. Other states opting out like Nebraska and Iowa declined to participate in the program because of critiques they had for the program and administrative costs.

The Cherokee and Chickasaw Nation signed up for the program, meaning Oklahoma families with kids attending a public school on their reservation territories won’t miss out on benefits.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement the Cherokee Nation participated in the summer food program for about five years and served 7,000 families last year. He said it expects more children will apply and welcomes a potential increase in participation.

“The Cherokee Nation is committed to ensuring children have access to nutritious food this summer because we know how vital food security is for families and overall health and wellness, Hoskin Jr. said. “It’s regrettable and bewildering that the state of Oklahoma is abandoning federal funding and losing an opportunity to address child food insecurity.”

Stitt’s communication officer told The Oklahoman the governor will remain in communication with Secretary of Human Services Deborah Shropshire and Oklahoma Department of Human Services staff to ensure available programs sufficiently serve the kids who need them.

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Jillian Taylor
StateImpact Oklahoma