Best practices for implementing new federal safety net program with potential to reach almost 30 million children are rooted in research and lessons learned from previous state partnerships
Contact: Ryan Flaherty, email@example.com
December 13, 2023, San Francisco — Code for America – the leading civic tech nonprofit that works with community leaders and governments to build equitable, accessible digital tools and services – and No Kid Hungry, a campaign of Share Our Strength, today released a first-of-its-kind playbook to help state governments connect kids that qualify for free or reduced price school meals with grocery-buying benefits during summer break.
The Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (Summer EBT) program kicks off in 2024 and represents a historic investment in the nutrition and well-being of the almost 30 million children who will qualify for the program. States must opt-in by January 1 and submit implementation plans by February 15 that address complex data and technology challenges uncovered during the pandemic. Effective implementation has the potential to dramatically reduce the long-standing increases in child hunger that are seen nationwide each summer.
The Summer EBT Playbook provides step-by-step guidance for states to deliver a human-centered experience, including:
- How states can effectively collect and aggregate school data to identify eligible students.
- Best practices for matching and deduplicating student data to deliver benefits.
- Tips for creating a simple, easy-to-use online application.
- Best practices for digital outreach and customer support to help families navigate this brand new program.
In 2020, Code for America worked directly in more than a dozen states supporting the implementation of a similar pandemic-era food benefit program for low income families. During this work, Code for America got a firsthand look at the program’s tremendous impact, as well as the technical, data, and operational challenges it posed to states. The Summer EBT Playbook is informed in large part by these learnings, as well as by additional primary research with more than 25 states and jurisdictions on anticipated challenges with standing up such programs.
“This once-in-a-generation creation of a new federal safety net program has the potential to distribute $3.6 billion in grocery money to children facing hunger across the country,” said Amanda Renteria, CEO of Code for America. “Amid skyrocketing child hunger, Code for America is committed to helping state agencies create program plans that are effective, implementable, and equitable. We thank our partners at Share Our Strength for the opportunity to do this important work.”
"No child should go hungry in America, especially during the summer when schools are closed. The Summer EBT playbook is a crucial tool in our fight against childhood hunger, offering valuable insights and resources to ensure families receive the support they need," said Anne Filipic, CEO of Share Our Strength.
The Summer EBT Playbook aims to promote plans that are accessible, efficient, and equitable by helping states tackle the stickiest challenges facing their program operations:
- Complexity of coordination with school data sources: In many cases, states lack a centralized database of all students who will be eligible for the program, and will need to coordinate with schools, districts, and systems to aggregate the necessary data.
- Acquiring and deduplicating data: The bulk of children are likely to be automatically eligible for Summer EBT without having to submit an application, but determining eligibility requires aggregating and deduplicating many different data sets. States that can do this effectively can streamline the process and reduce benefit allocation errors.
- Processing Summer EBT applications: States that don’t have good data sources will have to rely more heavily on applications to identify eligible children. Applications can be burdensome to families and caseworkers, and require clear and timely communications so that families know what’s required of them. For states expecting a greater number of applications, the quality of the application will determine the ease by which families can complete it and the state can verify it.
- Community outreach and customer support processes: Pandemic-EBT in 2020 demonstrated that families experience increased confusion and uncertainty when navigating a brand new program. Because of this, state agencies will have to develop effective outreach strategies to inform families about the new program, and ensure that families know what to expect and what they need to do. State agencies will also need to establish customer support processes to ensure families know where to go when they need help with the program.
The Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer program, the precursor to Summer EBT, reduced hunger and food insecurity in school-aged children during the pandemic. In the December 2022 Omnibus bill, Congress established Summer EBT as a new nationwide and permanent program to build upon that success. Eligible children and families will receive $40 per child per month in the form of a pre-loaded card that can be used to purchase groceries. Eligibility requirements are listed on the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture’s website.
About Code for America
Code for America, a nonprofit founded in 2009, believes that government can work for the people, and by the people, in the new digital age. We work with government at all levels across the country to make the delivery of public services equitable with technology. We work with community organizations and governments to build digital tools, change policies, and improve programs. Our goal: a resilient government that effectively and equitably serves everyone. Learn more at codeforamerica.org.
About No Kid Hungry
No child should go hungry in America. But millions of kids in the United States live with hunger. No Kid Hungry is working to end childhood hunger by helping launch and improve programs that give all kids the healthy food they need to thrive. This is a problem we know how to solve. No Kid Hungry is a campaign of Share Our Strength, an organization committed to ending hunger and poverty.