Nikki Fried blasts Ron DeSantis for late child food aid, demands request for more

DeSantis Fried 3.25.21
DeSantis' administration says funds will begin reaching families Wednesday.

More than two months after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration adhered to the wishes of elected officials, advocacy groups, and food banks by applying for $820 million in outstanding federal child food aid, one of his opponents in next year’s gubernatorial election is asking where the money has gone and is prodding him to again apply for further funding available to the state.

In a lettersent Monday, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried demanded to know why families “are experiencing additional delays” in receiving Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) funding, including leftover funds from the last school year and summer session.

She also inquired as to whether Florida will apply for P-EBT funds for the current school year.

“I am deeply concerned about the continued negative impact that your Administration’s delays in applying for and disbursing P-EBT benefits for (school year 2020-21) and summer 2021 are having on the Florida children and families who are counting on this federal assistance,” she wrote. “It is of the utmost importance that your Administration communicate all P-EBT information clearly with the public, and not create any additional delays that will cause further harm to millions of Florida families by waiting any longer to submit the state’s application to the USDA for (school year 2021-22).”

The Florida Department of Children and Families said Nov. 19 it was “working quickly to expedite the processing of summer P-EBT benefits,” which would begin being issued directly to clients Wednesday.

“Recipients should anticipate a staggered disbursement through the beginning of 2022,” the agency said.

Florida Democrats in September piled on DeSantis to demand he reverse his “appalling” decision not to reenlist the state in the pandemic-era P-EBT program, which brings federal food aid to 2.1 million children from low-income homes across.

Florida at the time was the only state that had not yet applied for the remaining funds available to it through the program, which began under former President Donald Trump as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. It was conceived as a way to help children who had received free or discounted lunches at school to be fed while studying remotely during school closures. It was also available to children up to age 5 whose families were enrolled for federal SNAP benefits over the summer.

Florida participated in the program during the 2020-21 school year, over which the state was estimated to have received $1.2 billion for more than a million kids who qualified for free or reduced lunch through June.

In a May 27, 2020, statement, DeSantis said he applauded Trump and the USDA for making the program available even though the school year had ended. Through the summer, under President Joe Biden, the USDA extended P-EBT and enabled states that had not signed up yet to do so during the regular 2021-22 school year.

Florida did not apply, resulting in a roughly $375 shortfall per eligible child over the summer, with kids losing $2.26 for breakfast, $3.60 for lunch and $1 for a snack daily.

DeSantis’ Press Secretary, Christina Pushaw, said the money wasn’t yet needed. The state had yet to fully tap the P-EBT funds it already had, she said, and because schools had returned to in-person classrooms, children were “receiving nutrition directly from schools.”

The U.S. Census Bureau found 14% of Florida homes in June and July reported children weren’t eating enough because the households could not afford food. And as the Tampa Bay Times reported, Florida SNAP recipients lost about $280 million per month in additional federal benefits when DeSantis allowed the state’s pandemic state of emergency to lapse over the summer.

Floridians lost another $300 million in federal unemployment benefits in May as part of an effort by DeSantis’ administration to get residents to rejoin the workforce.

On Sept. 21, Mallory McManus, a spokesperson for Florida’s Department of Children and Families, said the state would reverse course and apply for P-EBT funds “out of an abundance of caution.” She noted a separate summer food program called BreakSpot is responsible for “ensuring summer nutrition for students while schools are on break.”

BreakSpot and P-EBT are complementary and independent of one another, with BreakSpot providing meals and P-EBT providing cash for meals for low-income homes.

Fried’s office told the Times BreakSpot added 1,400 more meal sites over the summer and delivered 18.5 million meals — at least 2.5 million more than in non-pandemic years.

With more P-EBT funds now on the table to help Florida families, DeSantis should act sooner rather than later, Fried wrote.

“(If) the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services were able to apply for this critical supplemental child nutrition program funding, I would have instructed my Department to do so immediately,” she said.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


One comment

  • Lenora Lampkin

    November 23, 2021 at 1:22 pm

    My grandson I’ve been going to school since last year doing virtual at home I’ve been waiting on my stamps since June I filled out the forms to pandemic EBT every time I call it’s the same thing I wish you would please release my grandson stamps so I can do what I have to do for us in my household right is right and wrong is wrong so it made me think y’all say he didn’t go to school and I know he went to school on virtual please give us a sStamps

    Reply

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