For the past decade, Code for America has been working to make the experience of applying for food benefits more human-centered. Our goal has always been to ensure that those who need these critical benefits can apply for them without undue burden, and that states that process these benefits can do so effectively and efficiently.
We’re thrilled that there will now be a new federal safety net program with the potential to distribute $3.6 billion in food benefits to families across the country. The Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (Summer EBT) program launches in 2024 and represents an enormous investment in the well-being of the almost 30 million children who will qualify for the program.
This is a historic moment: it’s the first new permanent federal food assistance program in almost 50 years. Eligible children and families will receive $40 per child per month in the form of a pre-loaded card that can be used to purchase groceries. Child hunger spikes each summer when children who receive free and reduced lunch are left without equivalent benefits while school is out—so effective implementation of Summer EBT has incredible potential to reduce child hunger and make sure kids stay fed year round.
With the start of any new benefits program, we expect states will encounter a fair number of challenges as they stand up Summer EBT for the first time. State agencies will have to collect and aggregate a huge amount of school data to identify eligible students, and then match and deduplicate that data in order to deliver benefits to families. They will need to create new Summer EBT applications for families that cannot be determined eligible based on existing data alone. And throughout, they will need to ensure that families receive essential information from trusted channels about this new benefit, their potential eligibility, and any steps they need to take to navigate the program.
Effective implementation is key here—because any program that can’t reach the people it’s intended to help won’t live up to the vision spelled out in the policy.
That’s why we partnered with No Kid Hungry, a campaign of Share Our Strength, to create the Summer EBT Playbook. It’s a guide for states covering topics like how to streamline the application process for Summer EBT using data from schools that’s already available, how to handle the complexity of sorting through disparate school data sources, how to effectively process applications for the program, and how to develop outreach strategies to inform families about the program and ensure they know what to do to get their benefits.
Download the Summer EBT Playbook for step-by-step guidance on how to deliver a human-centered benefits experience.
We’ve worked on programs like this before—during the pandemic, we helped states stand up Pandemic EBT so that kids could stay fed while schools closed down during the public health emergency. We learned a lot while supporting states in the delivery of Pandemic EBT, and we’re excited to apply that learning to our work with states on the permanent Summer EBT program.
The Pandemic EBT program significantly reduced hunger and food insecurity in school-aged children during the pandemic, and we believe it’s possible for Summer EBT to do the same on a permanent basis. It’s time for all of us in civic tech, state government, and community organizations to work together to meet the moment—because doing so will make it more likely that children and families get the benefits they need to thrive.