Arkansas to Help Combat Childhood Summer Hunger with Summer EBT Program 

Arkansas is one of 35 states that has signed up to make sure that kids will have access to nutritious foods during the summer. Qualifying children from Head Start up through high school will receive a total of $120 for food through the summer EBT program. 

This program is going to be so vital to supporting many of Arkansas’s families, but we must help spread the word to make sure every child who is eligible is able to receive the benefit. Arkansas has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation for children at roughly 22%, and nearly one in four of Arkansas’s children lack enough food to eat (24%). We are 6th highest in the nation for child poverty and have the highest child food insecurity rate in the nation, much higher than the national rate of 18.5%.

We also know that childhood hunger is more likely to soar during the summer months when children don’t have access to school meals. This is especially true in Arkansas, where we haven’t funded sufficient summer programs that would help offset hunger by providing meals. In addition, we know that families struggle with increased food bills in the summer and, worse yet, we are facing unprecedented grocery inflation, making grocery bills rise at a time when families are already facing hardship. Losing access to quality, reliable, nutritional foods during the summer months means that kids will experience more summer learning loss. These students are more likely to forget what they learned during the year more easily than children who are not struggling with hunger. It also means they will start the next school year months behind those children who did not experience summer hunger. Kids who experience hunger often are more likely to face long-term health consequences, like iron deficiency, anemia, asthma, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. 

Arkansas is helping support low-income families by participating in a new federal program called Summer EBT (EBT is an acronym for Electronic Benefits Transfer). Kids who attended grades K-12 during the 2023 – 2024 school year may be eligible to participate. Some children are automatically eligible, and that includes children who: have completed an application during the school year and qualified for free and reduced school meals; receive SNAP or TEA; are in Head Start; are in foster care; are homeless or are runaways; or are in migrant families should not need to complete an application and should soon be receiving a letter from the Arkansas Department of Human Resources (DHS) advising the parents of the child’s automatic status. 

However, there are roughly 70,000 – 90,000 children in Arkansas who may be eligible for the benefit but will need to apply. That includes families in private and charter schools that participate in the National School Lunch or School Breakfast program, as well as those attending public schools that participate but don’t have a requirement to fill out paperwork because they have a waiver (Provision 2 or Community Eligibility Schools). If your child falls into any of these categories, you may be eligible to fill out an application if you meet the income requirements (175% of the federal poverty guidelines – an income of about $45,000 a year for a family of three, or higher for larger families). You can use the tool on the DHS Summer EBT page to see if you qualify to submit an application. You can fill out the application online and submit it by email at SummerEBT@dhs.arkansas.gov, or you can print the application and turn it in at your local DHS office. Applications may be submitted until August 26, 2024, for this year’s Summer EBT program, and the last day benefits will be issued is September 30, 2024. 

Each eligible child will receive their own debit card with the $120 benefits preloaded. You must use your benefits within 122 days of receiving the card, and you can use the Summer EBT card to purchase foods like whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, etc. For more information about the Summer EBT program, you can go to the FAQs page on the Summer EBT website.