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Summer EBT for Children: A Way to Fight Low Food Security


Highlights

  • Millions of children who receive free or reduced-price lunches during the school year do not have access to these meals during the summer
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture asked Abt Associates and its partners to evaluate a pilot program in which families received summer food assistance
  • Abt shared the findings, which showed nutritional benefits, with policy makers and nutrition experts
The Challenge

Millions of U.S. children receive free or reduced-price lunches each school day, but that number drops greatly during summer. In 2014, summer nutrition programs reached only about 16 percent of the children who received food assistance during the year. But children’s nutritional needs certainly do not take a summer vacation.

The Approach

The Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture piloted the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children (SEBTC) Demonstration in summers 2011 through 2014. The goal was to improve the food security of children who receive free and reduced-price meals during the school year.

Households with eligible children received electronic benefit systems (EBT) cards, similar to debit cards and commonly used by other programs. The first two summers (2011 and 2012) tested a $60 monthly per child benefit amount. Summer 2013 compared the impacts of a $30 benefit to a $60 benefit. Summer 2014 examined implementation strategies and use patterns.

Abt Associates and its partners, Mathematica Policy Research and MAXIMUS, conducted an evaluation. Among the findings:

  • The $60 monthly per child benefit reduced very low food security among children — the most severe form of food insecurity — by 33 percent;
  • Children in households receiving SEBTC benefits ate more nutritious foods than those who did not receive the benefit, including fruits and vegetables and whole grains; and
  • Households used about 75 percent of their SEBTC benefits.
The Results

The findings from the evaluation were widely shared with policy makers and nutrition experts, including in publications and policy forums.