Pressure Mounts On DeSantis To Apply For Federal Child Food Aid

Sep 10, 2021

More than 30 Democratic state lawmakers, including Rep. Angie Nixon of Jacksonville, have signed a letter urging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to apply for a federal program that would provide $820 million to help feed low-income children.

Florida is the only state in the U.S. that has not applied for the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program (EBT), according to Nixon and the other Democrats who signed onto the letter. The Pandemic-EBT program provides federal funding, at no cost, to states to provide grocery benefits to children who missed out on free or reduced-price meals while their schools or child care facilities were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program was created by the federal government last year, under the Trump administration, to make sure children were still being fed while schools were operating remotely. During the 2020-2021 school year, the EBT program helped feed about 1.2 million distance learning students in Florida, according to the state Department of Children and Families.

Child advocates say qualifying students in Florida are missing out on $375 this summer and fall to help pay for things like bread, cereal, fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy and plants and seeds to grow food.

“We are a high-poverty state, unfortunately, and some of our kids only get a good meal at school,” Rep. Angie Nixon told WJCT News. “To just leave this money on the table when their parents can be using it to put food on their table is absolutely ridiculous.”

Nixon and others are accusing DeSantis of playing partisan politics by not applying for the EBT program, which was extended through this summer under the Biden administration. 

WJCT News reached out to the governor’s office, but no response was received by this story’s deadline. However, the governor’s Press Secretary Christina Pushaw told The Orlando Sentinel  that Floridians didn’t need the program because children are back in school.

“P-EBT was created by the federal government last year to ensure children were still being fed while they attended school remotely. As you know, schools are not remote in Florida and were not remote last year either. Children are receiving nutrition directly from schools,” she wrote.

But remote learning is not required for children to qualify for benefits through the EBT program. 

The letter signed by Rep. Nixon is part of mounting pressure on the governor. More than 80 advocacy groups have also reached out to DeSantis, encouraging him to apply for the EBT program. If Florida were to apply, families could receive funds retroactively.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.