Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration appears to be backing down from its month-long suggestion that the summertime extension of federal aid for hungry children was not needed.
Florida will apply for the $820 million Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer that will give needy families $375 per child in food aid, the state’s child welfare agency said Monday.
The money has been available since April. Florida’s status as the “only state” that had not applied for the federal aid became a major talking point for Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who sent a letter Aug. 25 asking the Governor to apply for the aid. On Tuesday, Fried, who is running to replace DeSantis as Governor, said she’ll believe Florida has applied for it when she sees it.
“Unfortunately, as of the time of this press release, my office and our federal partners have been told that no application has been submitted for the summer P-EBT funding from our state,” Fried said in a written statement released Tuesday morning. “I hope that DCF will complete the application soon, although I’m still appalled that it has taken Governor DeSantis this long to do something so simple that will help feed so many hungry kids in our state.”
Before this week, the Governor’s office routinely responded to Fried’s roundtables and news conferences on the topic, saying food was being provided to needy children in spite of pandemic conditions. Food was available to needy children through Summer BreakSpots, which Fried’s department runs, and, unlike other states, in-person school started in August and hungry children could get food at school, Christina Pushaw, Governor’s spokeswoman said on numerous occasions.
But a Department of Children and Families spokeswoman statement attributed the need for the aid to Fried’s department.
“The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, run by Commissioner Fried, is the agency charged with ensuring summer nutrition for students while schools are on break,” DCF spokeswoman Mallory McManus. “Last week, out of an abundance of caution, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) started the process of applying for Pandemic EBT to make certain that any possible gaps left by Commissioner Fried’s program will not affect children.
“The Summer Food Service Program, or Summer Breakspot, is federally funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and is state administered in Florida by FDACS,” McManus added.
Fried’s office disputed the statement.
“In Florida, the P-EBT program is administered by DCF in partnership with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). FDACS does not have the authority to apply for the funding on its own because DCF is the lead agency, but FDACS needs to sign off on the application before DCF can submit it to USDA for approval.”
A spokeswoman from Fried’s office called DCF’s statements on the application “deliberately misleading” and defended the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services’ kids summer effort that exceeded previous years results.
“The Governor’s office and DCF are deliberately misleading by conflating the two programs in an effort to distract from their failure to apply for this money to help hungry children,” Caroline Stonecipher said. “The Summer Food Service Program that we administer is a totally separate program from the P-EBT program. … This year our program actually served 2.5 million meals more than we usually do on average, and our department added 1,400 additional meal sites across the state to make these meals easier for kids to access.”
The DeSantis administration had accepted the first round of Pandemic EBT in May, given under President Donald Trump’s administration.