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Florida Has Reversed Course And Will Accept Federal Money For Low-Income Children

Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media

State officials announced this week they would reverse course and accept federal money to help low-income children get food for their children.

Florida's Department of Children and Families said it is applying for a federal program that would provide $820 million to the state's low-income children.

The Summer Pandemic Electronic Transfer program provides free funding to states. Those funds are used to provide grocery benefits to children who missed out ono free or reduced-price meals while their school or child care facilities were closed.

Thomas Mantz, president and CEO of Feeding Tampa Bay, says there's a real need in the region for children who aren't getting enough to eat.

"We still have 35% increased need post-pandemic vs. pre-pandemic," Mantz said. "The good news is it's way down from the initial crisis that COVID created in our community, but it's still 35% higher than pre-pandemic."

Mantz says one in four children in the greater Tampa Bay region is food insecure.

"Prior to COVID, we had about 650,000 folks who were food insecure," Mantz said. "Right now, we have close to a million. And that's a significant difference. So for us, the crisis has not passed for the families we've served."

He said a lot of students are not getting free lunches in schools because of quarantines or are not going to school for other reasons.

The Department of Children & Families estimates the P-EBT program assisted about 1.2 million Florida distance learning students during the 2020-21 school year.

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Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.