Thompson blasts Reeves for opting out of program aimed at providing meals to impoverished children

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U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson is calling out Governor Tate Reeves after Mississippi joined 14 other states in opting out of a federal program that is expected to expand grocery benefits for nearly 21 million children.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday announced that 35 states will be launching a permanent 2024 Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program as a means to bridge the gap by providing financial assistance for families whose children typically rely on free or reduced-priced meals while in school.

Mississippi, however, will not be joining the majority of its peers in expanding these benefits statewide — at least for this calendar year. Reeves, a Republican, joined many of his fellow GOP colleagues in rejecting the federal funding.

The program allocates $120 per eligible child, or those belonging to families at or under 185% of the federal poverty level, for the summer. According to USDA, the goal is to give those in poverty the financial flexibility to purchase food from grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and authorized retailers while children qualified to receive reduced-priced school lunches are not in the classroom.

In response to the governor’s move not to bring the program to Mississippi, Thompson, a Democratic Congressman seeking reelection this year, blasted Reeves and accused him of denying vital aid for impoverished families.

“Shame on Tate Reeves for refusing essential food assistance for eligible children during the summer,” Thompson said. “Many families in Mississippi have children who qualify for free and reduced lunch, making school-based meal programs a cornerstone of their nutritional intake.”

Congress approved the permanent summer EBT program with bipartisan support in December 2022 and the USDA set its eyes on 2024 as the year of implementation.

According to a study from the U.S. Census Bureau, Mississippi ranks No. 1 in the nation in food insecurity with 22.6% of households saying that there is not enough to eat to maintain a proper diet.

Thompson argued that the state opting out of the USDA’s new program is going create an even greater burden for those struggling to make ends meet to find a way to feed their children this summer.

“With the absence of the EBT Summer Program, families are left to navigate the complexities on their own, a situation deemed inherently unfair,” Thompson added. “These federal funds would have provided crucial support for parents and guardians to ensure their child or children are adequately fed throughout the summer. Unfortunately, the repercussions of the governor opting Mississippi out of this new program casts a significant burden on multiple families.”

Though Mississippi will not be opting in to participate in the expanded summer EBT program in 2024, the state will have the opportunity to launch the program in future years.

At the time of publication, Governor Tate Reeves had not responded to a request for comment from SuperTalk Mississippi News. His reasoning for declining to participate in the federal program is unknown at this time.

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