When 15 States Opt Out of a Summer Food Program, Community Organizations Must Fill in the Gaps

When Mississippi opts out, we opt in.

(Courtesy of Springboard to Opportunities)

Over the past few days, as winter storms and frigid temperatures have swept across most of the country, many of us have been reminded of the challenges that come with school closures and disrupted routines.

For many of the families we work with—minimum-wage, essential workers—school is so much more than an academic institution. It is daycare during working hours and the provider of two meals each day for kids who might otherwise go without. Out-of-school time is incredibly stressful for families who are already just trying to make ends meet—including providing an extra 10 meals per week for each child in the household.

That’s why we were extremely disappointed by the decision of Mississippi and 14 other states last week to opt-out of a new summer EBT program that would have provided each eligible family with $40 per month per child during the summer to help cover the additional costs of food. For a mother working full-time at minimum wage (approximately $1,160 each month), that $40 could make a huge difference.

Once again, we are reminded that poverty, and all its consequences, are the result of policy choices.

But when policy choices put an undue burden on our families, we know that it is our time to step into the gap. That’s why we will be offering cash disbursements to each family in our communities with school-aged children during the upcoming summer months. Just like in the past when water pipes and power systems failed and we stepped in with cash, we are committed to ensuring our families have what they need for a healthy summer when our policymakers fail, too.

If we want to be a country that cares about families, we must start prioritizing policies that have been proven to provide families with healthier lives and the ability to meet their needs—like summer EBT and the expanded child tax credit.

Our hope is that our summer cash disbursements, like all our socioeconomic well-being programs, will model again what policies grounded in dignity, equity and trust can do if we would make the choice to implement them.

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Sarah Stripp is the managing director for Springboard To Opportunities, a nonprofit organization in Jackson, Miss., that works with residents in affordable housing reach their goals in school, work and life. In the fall of 2018, Springboard To Opportunities announced The Magnolia Mother’s Trust, a new initiative that provides low-income, Black mothers in Jackson, Mississippi $1,000 cash on a monthly basis, no strings attached, for 12 months straight.