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What’s the Word On: Summer Nutrition


The massive $1.7 trillion omnibus bill passed late last year included many items, to say the least. But one relatively tiny program that caught Islamic Relief USA’s eyes, given its long-standing commitment to reducing hunger, is the inclusion of a summer electronic benefits transfer program to purchase meals.

This program, which will start in 2024, aims to provide healthy meals in an efficient manner to kids from low income households during the summer months.

According to the legislation, which was spearheaded by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), eligible households would receive a debit card for the summer of 2024 that provides a $40 grocery benefit per child per month. The totals would be adjusted for inflation. Children would be eligible for these benefits if they normally qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

In addition, families living in rural areas will also have meals delivered to them during the summer months, as it can be difficult for them to collect their meals from far-flung schools.

While this seems like a wonderful program, it comes at a cost. Lawmakers had to trim benefits to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, to enable the new program to move forward. On the surface, it’s almost like robbing Peter to pay Paul. But given the compromises that needed to be made, we believe this is a reasonable alternative. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of providing nutritious meals to children, as it can positively impact their academic performance. And child hunger is a threat that any conscionable society cannot tolerate

Many SNAP recipients saw their benefits increase significantly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as the federal government was enacting financial measures to help people whose ability to work was put at risk or simply curtailed. But now a sense of normalcy is starting to return more and more in many aspects of our lives. So, the reasoning goes, such enhanced benefits are no longer as necessary.

Make no mistake, the pandemic is still with us and it still poses a threat. But at the same time the government does not have a blank check, and lawmakers had to make a choice. There will be some unfortunate sacrifices and some vulnerable populations will see cuts in their nutrition benefits. In the future, we would hope that one vulnerable population is not sacrificed for another. But these are the times we live in, and .

We only hope the debit card will be used toward legitimately nutritious meals, and not junk food. Conditions should be put in place to prevent such misuse.

In addition, we hope to see more support for other programs that unfortunately didn’t make the bill, such as the revised Child Tax Credit that was in place for much of 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan, and Universal Free Meals, which provided free school meals to all students regardless of their income. We have spoken extensively about how vital these programs have been in curbing child hunger and overall poverty.

Conventional wisdom says a divided Congress will make expansion or implementation of those programs a non-starter. But at Islamic Relief USA, hope always springs eternal.

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