Georgia is opting out of a federal program that would give families extra money to feed their kids this summer. 

The so-called Summer EBT program is an extension of the Pandemic EBT program model, which had near national enrollment and ended last year. 

With Summer EBT, families in over 30 states who are enrolled in SNAP, or with kids eligible for the National School Lunch Program, will get $40 a month for three months, per child. Others can enroll in the program directly. 

But not in Georgia.

According to a statement from Gov. Brian Kemp’s office, the state’s decision to forgo extra benefits lies on the success of existing programs like the federally funded Seamless Summer Option

Governor's office spokesperson Garrison Douglas also stated Summer EBT “lacks basic nutritional requirements and sustainability.” The program follows a similar model as SNAP, allowing users to purchase from a select list of eligible fruits, proteins, dairy, breads and other products. 

But Kelsey Boone with the Food Research and Action Center said Summer EBT is meant to be supplemental. 

“A summer meal site can only provide a meal and a snack or two meals a day,” Boone said. “Summer EBT is a complement to summer meals.”

An analysis by the Brookings Institute of household changes during P-EBT disbursements showed the extra benefits significantly reduced food hardship over a year's time, for families with high and medium food insecurity. It was especially helpful in states with high rates of school closure. 

“When you take that money away, it significantly impacts families, particularly in this time where food inflation is so high and we're still feeling the effects of the pandemic,” Boone said. 

About 1.2 million kids in Georgia would be eligible for Summer EBT according to the FRAC

To manage the program, Douglas said the state would have to pay $4.5 million in administrative costs, half of the total cost, as the rest would be covered by federal funds. 

As an alternative, the state will continue to host free summer meal sites at schools and other gathering spots. Some sites are already up and running, while others won't start till July.

Summer meals are available to families in low-income areas through Happy Helpings, operated by Georgia’s Department of Early Care and Learning, and the Seamless Summer Option through the Department of Education. Both are funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. 

“Those programs have been in existence for a while, and we always try to grow them,” said Cindy Kicklighter with DECAL. 

Last year, 59 Georgia counties did not have a Happy Helpings meal site. Kicklighter said thousands of dollars in start-up grants issued by the agency to sponsoring organizations has helped encourage that footprint to grow. 

"There's always room for improvement until we have a site in every single county," Kicklighter said. 

For families in rural areas with transportation barriers who are unable to make it to meal sites during designated times, federal changes around congregate summer meals will hopefully make food more accessible this year. 

“A sponsoring organization can get approved to offer non-congregate meals, meaning that the parents can pick them up, it can be home delivery, it can be bulk distribution,” Kicklighter said. “But it has to be in an approved area.”

Meals through Happy Helpings and the Seamless Summer Option are available to any school-aged children without eligibility requirements. 


An earlier version of this story read: Last year, 73 Georgia counties did not have a Happy Helpings meal site.