An initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Policy Solutions for Summer Food Security

School Meals

Crystal FitzSimons

Director of School and Out-of-School Time Programs, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)


June 8th, 2023


For every child to have a fun-filled summer, they need nutritious food to keep them healthy and energized. That’s where the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) comes in—it’s one program schools and communities can use to ensure that eligible children receive nutrition benefits all summer long. 

For the past two summers, P-EBT benefits have helped to improve food security for millions of kids. But beginning this summer, changes are coming to the program that will impact food access for families across the country. 

In this blog, Crystal FitzSimons, director of School and Out-of-School Time Programs for the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), shares her perspective on the importance of P-EBT, how it will be changing this year, what that means for kids and families, and the policy solutions we could explore to improve nutrition outcomes for everyone. 


Tell us about FRAC. What are some of the policies and programs it supports for children’s health?

FRAC improves the nutrition, health, and wellbeing of people struggling against poverty-related hunger through advocacy, partnerships, and advancing bold and equitable policy solutions. We believe school meals are just as important as textbooks when it comes to every child’s ability to be healthy and achieve in school. That’s why we are proud to be part of the Healthy School Meals for All Coalition, which aims to enable all schools to offer school meals to all students at no charge.

FRAC also played a critical role in creating P-EBT by working closely with Congress to enact the program. We’ve continued working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state agencies, and national and state partners to implement it across the country.


What is the P-EBT program, and what does it provide to children and families?

P-EBT was designed in spring 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and schools closed—causing 29 million children to lose access to free or reduced-price school breakfast and lunch, almost overnight. P-EBT provides the value of these lost meals on an EBT card, allowing families to purchase the food that would have otherwise been provided at school.

Over the last three years, the program expanded to provide benefits to young children in addition to school-age children and to provide benefits during summer vacation.

Since its inception three years ago, P-EBT has provided about $65 billion in nutrition benefits to families.


Part of FRAC’s work involves tracking data on the success and reach of federal nutrition programs. What does the research show so far about the impact of P-EBT on children’s nutrition, health, and wellbeing during the summer?

Since P-EBT is a relatively new program, we are still gathering data on its impact. However, because it was modeled on the Summer EBT demonstration pilots, we can use evaluations on Summer EBT to demonstrate that this approach reduces food insecurity and improves children’s summertime nutrition. The impact of Summer EBT on reducing food insecurity and improving nutrition is consistent with SNAP research that finds that increased program benefits reduce food insecurity and improve the quality of families’ diets.

Analysis of P-EBT by the Brookings Institute found that it reduced food hardship among families earning low incomes, and we expect forthcoming research to corroborate their findings.


This summer, changes are coming to P-EBT for the first time in three years. What are those changes, and how will they impact kids and families?

With the end of the Public Health Emergency on May 11, P-EBT for the school year—and for young children—also ended. Though P-EBT will continue in summer 2023, its benefits will only be available to school-age children. Benefits will still provide important support to families, but the amount has decreased to $40 per eligible child per month this summer.


What else should parents and caregivers who participate in EBT know about the changes?

The bottom line for parents and caregivers is that P-EBT will be less of a resource this summer than it has been in the past. The two big ways are that children under six will no longer be eligible, and the monthly benefits have dropped significantly, from $391 per child to less than a third of that. The third significant shift is that not all states have an approved state plan to provide families with benefits this summer. States have until July 14 to submit their plans. Parents or caregivers can confirm that their state has an approved plan at the link below.


What supports will be in place to combat summer hunger next year when P-EBT expires?

In 2024, the Summer EBT program will be implemented nationwide to support food security, providing families with $40 per month per eligible child on their EBT card. States will need to opt into the program.

In addition to Summer EBT, summer meals will be available at sites located in areas with low incomes. These sites often offer educational, recreational, and physical activities, which helps keep children learning and moving during the summer months. Summer EBT is a complement to summer meals, and children can participate in both.


What’s your message for policymakers when it comes to creating a healthier, more equitable nutrition support system here in the U.S.? What steps can decision makers take to improve children’s nutrition?

The federal child nutrition programs—school breakfast and lunch, summer, afterschool, and childcare meals, pandemic and Summer EBT—play a critical role in reducing hunger and supporting good nutrition. But more must be done to ensure access to the meals and improve the benefits that these programs provide. For example:

- All schools should be able to offer school breakfast and lunch to all their students at no charge, and all communities should be able to offer summer and afterschool meals.

- Children can get school breakfast, lunch, and afterschool supper and snacks on school days. The same benefits should be available to children on the weekends, over the summer, and during school breaks.

- Studies show that kids in households with increased benefits ate more nutritious foods. The Summer EBT benefit should be increased to help families access more healthy food.

Summer nutrition programs work. Now, our leaders need to do more to ensure they reach every child.

About the Author

Crystal FitzSimons
Director of School and Out-of-School Time Programs, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)

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