Alabama will be one of 15 states not to participate in an upcoming U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) summer program that provides EBT benefits to kids for groceries.

The USDA announced on Wednesday that 35 states plan to be the first to launch the new, permanent summer grocery benefits program for children – known as Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer – in 2024.

However, Alabama won't be part of the program this summer despite having participated during the pandemic, according to Mike Lewis, a spokesman for Gov. Kay Ivey.

"While Alabama has fully participated in the Pandemic EBT/Summer Pandemic EBT Program since 2020, unfortunately, the federal government has now cut funding for administering the program by 50% and issued guidance after our legislative session ended, thereby eliminating the potential for securing state funds to continue administering these limited additional benefits," Lewis told 1819 News.

USDA estimated in a news release that, in total, the states, U.S. territories, and tribes that have committed to launching the Summer EBT program in summer 2024 will serve close to 21 million children, providing a total of nearly $2.5 billion in grocery benefits. This is around 70% of the total population of children eligible for Summer EBT. USDA expects additional states and tribes will provide Summer EBT in 2025.

Through the program, states will provide families with $120 per eligible child for the summer to buy food at grocery stores, farmers markets, or other authorized retailers – similar to how SNAP benefits are used. Participating tribes will provide a benefit of the same amount that can be used to buy food at WIC-authorized retailers.

This is the program's inaugural year, meaning states and tribes that do not launch the program this summer will have future opportunities to opt in. USDA's goal is for Summer EBT to be available nationwide as soon as possible.

"No kid should have to spend their summer hungry, or without nutritious food," said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Torres Small said in a news release. "Summer EBT is a giant step forward in meeting the needs of our nation's children and families throughout the year, and especially in the summer months."

The benefit is provided on pre-loaded EBT cards similar to ones used for SNAP. Eligible families can use these cards to purchase groceries. 

School-aged children in states that opt-in to the program who receive SNAP benefits are eligible and will automatically qualify for the Summer EBT benefits. If a student attends an NSLP school and has individually been determined to be eligible for free and reduced meals, the student will automatically qualify for Summer EBT benefits as well. Benefits provided to eligible families through Summer EBT are federally funded, and the administration of the program is split between federal and state funding.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email [email protected].

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.