Al Lawson Leads Letter Calling on Ron DeSantis to Extend Federal Food Assistance Program to Students

Last week, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, D-Fla., led all the Democrats in the Florida delegation on a letter urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to immediately apply and extend the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program through the summer of 2021, which would provide $820 million in federal food assistance to Florida’s students.

In April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) extended P-EBT through the current summer months. Florida is the largest state that has not applied to extend these critical benefits.

The P-EBT program was made available to the State through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to help feed children who missed meals because they could not attend schools in person during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents of children who qualify for free or reduced lunches received an extra $375 a month to help pay for their kid’s meals.

“In Florida’s Fifth District, there are several schools with 100 percent of its students on free meal programs,” Lawson said. “One of my biggest concerns when schools closed during the pandemic was how our children who receive free and reduced lunches would eat. We have children going to school hungry, and struggling with hunger after school, on the weekends and during the summer. Not applying for these federal funds will continue to exasperate food insecurities for many of our families.”

In the letter, the lawmakers noted that since students have returned to in-person classrooms, positivity rates and pediatric hospitalizations have continued to climb – forcing school closures and additional precautions to protect children. With the Delta variant playing a role in the surge, infections in the state continue to climb. Unlike the first wave, which severely affected seniors, researchers are reporting that the newest wave of cases involves younger people who are not vaccinated.

Data from the Florida Department of Health showed that one out of every four infections happened in someone 19 or younger. The most recent seven-day period in Florida data, August 13 through August 19, showed children 12 and younger with a positivity rate of 23 percent, and those age 12 to 19 have a positivity rate of nearly 25 percent. More than 40,000 Floridians already have lost their lives to the pandemic.

Other signers included Florida Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.

The letter is below.

Dear Governor DeSantis,

We are writing to urge you to apply and extend Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) through the summer of 2021, providing upward of $820 million in federal food assistance. Florida participated in this program from August 2020 to June 2021. In April 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture extended P-EBT through the current summer months; however, Florida is the largest state that has not applied to extend these benefits. The expiration of these funds will continue to exasperate food insecurities for many Floridians.

The P-EBT program was created last year by the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” to help feed children who missed meals because they could not attend schools in person during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents of children who qualify for free or reduced lunches received an extra $375 a month to help pay for their kid’s meal. More than 2 million Florida children would qualify for these additional funds if the program was extended through the summer months.

With the Delta variant playing a role in the surge, infections in the state continue to climb. Unlike the first wave, which severely affected seniors, researchers are reporting that the newest wave of cases involves younger people who are not vaccinated. Data from the Florida Department of Health showed that one out of every four infections happened in someone 19 or younger. The most recent seven-day period in Florida data, August 13 through August 19, showed children 12 and younger with a positivity rate of 23 percent, and those age 12 to 19 have a positivity rate of nearly 25 percent.

Since hundreds of thousands of students across the state have returned to school over the last month, positivity rates and pediatric hospitalizations have continued to climb, forcing school closures and additional precautions to protect children. As kids return home to quarantine and classes are missed, food insecurity remains a problem for many Florida families. A U.S. Census Bureau survey of Florida households from June and July of 2021 found that 14 percent of adults reported that their children were not eating enough because the household could not afford food. In addition, when our state’s pandemic state of emergency expired in June, it caused SNAP recipients to lose about $280 million in benefits each month. As these federal programs expire in our state, demand and food insecurities among Florida families and their children will continue to grow.

Fortunately, there is no deadline for the state of Florida to apply for summer P-EBT benefits and these funds can be retroactively distributed to families. Given that the pandemic continues to worsen in our state, especially among children, it would be abhorrent to leave millions of federal dollars on the table that could feed people in need, at no additional cost to Floridians. Therefore, we request that you immediately apply for and extend P-EBT benefits through the summer. We appreciate your full and fair consideration of this letter and our offices stand prepared to assist you in any way necessary.

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