With food insecurity rising and summer on the way, 14 states have rejected a program that would keep students fed while school is out.  

In a rare bipartisan agreement, Congress recently approved a Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program that would provide $40 per month to families with children enrolled in the free or reduced-price school meal programs during most of the year. The additional assistance would help families bridge the three-month gap in school meals and keep their children from going hungry over the summer. The federal government funds all of the Summer EBT benefit costs and half of the administrative cost, creating a fiscally feasible program that ensures students are better supported. 

Yet governors in 14 states have rejected this relatively easy — and extremely effective — money. Many objected to what they characterized as “irresponsible” government spending. Others offered shocking ignorance of the way poverty, food insecurity, and children’s health all work together. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, for example, said there was no need for the program “at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic.”  The United States’ child obesity epidemic is a symptom of pervasive food insecurity, which often results in children consuming high-calorie, low-nutrition foods. Food assistance programs have proven to create better health outcomes for kids.  

The governor of Nebraska initially rejected this money as well, simply stating “I don’t believe in welfare.” He recently reversed this decision due to political pressure, especially from state legislators representing rural areas that are far from many community resources. While the carelessness in his initial decision-making is clear, it also proves the importance of pressuring policymakers to prioritize kids. Since children are often on the back burner for policymakers, this recent reversal proves that advocating for them is essential.  

Ensuring kids are fed should not be a political game. Politicians are using child hunger for political gain, despite the Summer EBT program reducing long-term spending and providing necessary food support. The decision to reject funding for student meals highlights the lack of emphasis our policymakers put on ensuring children have what they need to thrive. One-in-5 children don’t have enough to eat and families with children are more likely to face hunger. This should be a priority issue for policymakers across the country, but the decision to decline federal support for student meals proves otherwise.  

The decision of these governors leaves millions of students without summer meals. While federal lawmakers took an appreciated step to prioritize spending to keep children fed, state-level officials are putting politics over kids.