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From Pilot to Implementation: Five Things to Know about Summer EBT

April 27, 2023

Thanks to Congress, more than 29 million families whose children get free or reduced-price school lunches can continue to have nutritious lunches when school is out. In December 2022, Congress passed a bipartisan bill providing $40 a month for three months in grocery assistance for students who get subsidized lunches during the school year.  

Prior to lawmakers passing the legislation for the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (Summer EBT), Abt Associates had conducted evaluations of the pilots, starting in 2011. The evaluations found that Summer EBT significantly reduced food insecurity and improved nutrition outcomes. The Abt team also documented which processes and tactics worked in different settings as things to consider for Summer EBT programs.

Here are five considerations for potential programs:

  1. Advise retailers to allow for flexible food items. This may require information-sharing with retailers. If electricity is unreliable, for example, consumers can’t buy food that requires refrigeration. Advise retailers to stock substitutes for those items. One percent milk may sell better than skim milk. Encourage retailers to label the shelves where eligible foods are for WIC-based Summer EBT programs. Labeling makes shopping more efficient for consumers and enables retailers to know what they need to restock.
  2. Use spatial analysis and mapping data. You need to know where eligible households live, how far they have to travel to shop at a participating store, and whether transportation is available. If the distance is too great, enlist more retailers closer to where eligible households are. Retailers that participate in WIC are a good starting point. Farmers markets may offer proximity and quality fresh fruits and vegetables.
  3. Check which enrollment approach is the right one for you. Active consent requires families to sign up and may be more labor intensive than passive consent, a model that makes everyone eligible without signing up. Active consent’s data may be more accurate, and because this model requires more contact with people that the program serves, it helps foster trust and awareness. In addition, people may be eligible for several programs, and letting people choose the program that is most advantageous would require active consent. Evaluations show that benefit use rises when people can put Summer EBT on their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) card. It’s not clear which consent model will result in higher participation rates.
  4. Decide which tactic will work to increase use of benefits: increased outreach that gives detailed information to families via text messages or mobile apps; call centers that can answer people’s questions; online shopping;  increasing the value of the fruit and vegetable voucher; grantee customer support; and using schools, often a community’s hub, to send out information. Teachers can communicate with both students and parents.
  5. Cheese and eggs have the highest redemption rates. When payments rose, the redemption rates persisted, suggesting that program participants are using the funds available.

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