By
Cindy Huddleston
|
September 24, 2021

Summer P-EBT Victory Shows That Engaged Floridians Can Effect Real Change

This post was last updated on September 29, 2021. As new policies are announced, FPI will update this page.

As Florida’s response to COVID-19 takes front and center, concern grows for low-income families who struggle to take precautions against the spread of the virus. Although Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to address, at least in part,  the public health crisis and economic fallout from COVID-19, many barriers continue to keep struggling families from accessing the assistance they need during the pandemic. As Florida initiates policies implementing the Act and addressing other barriers to the safety net, FPI will update this form. When available, hyperlinks are provided to agency documents or statements that provide greater detail  about the new policy.

On March 22, 2020, FPI and 44 other organizations sent a letter to Governor DeSantis, leadership in the Legislature and agency heads to urge action on 47 specific policy changes to reduce unnecessary barriers for Florida’s safety net programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See the letter here.

Florida’s announcement that it plans to run a Summer P-EBT program, which should provide a total of about $375 in food assistance to each low-income child in the state who could not get meals from the National School Lunch Program during the summer because school was out, is the culmination of the hard work of dozens of organizations who let policymakers know about the impact of their initial decision to opt out of the program. More than 80 organizations, from small community farmers markets to the Florida Parent Teacher Association, signed a letter to Governor Ron DeSantis and Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris, asking that the state reconsider bowing out of Summer P-EBT.

The letter was just the beginning.

Several of those organizations also activated their own networks of affected families, faith and business leaders, and medical experts, many of whom voiced passionate disappointment over Florida’s inclination to bypass Summer P-EBT, and with good reason.

Additionally, the issue received widespread media coverage in Florida, including in the Tampa Bay Times and Orlando Sentinel, and several editorial boards published pieces urging the state to take action.

When rolled out, Summer P-EBT is expected to provide $820 million in food assistance to over 2 million of Florida’s low-income children, all with federal funds. Not only will this program go a long way to meet the unmet nutritional needs of kids and provide relief to families who are still reeling from the economic hit they have taken during the pandemic — it will also be an economic boost to local communities where families shop for groceries. Additionally, it will help reduce racial disparities in nutritional risk.

The effort to convince Florida to administer Summer P-EBT is an important lesson in civics.

When Floridians disagree with a decision made by state policymakers, it is crucial that the system of government allow them to openly voice their concerns. In the case of Summer P-EBT, policymakers, to their credit, paid attention to what Floridians had to say, hit the pause button, and reversed course on their initial decision not to apply for federal dollars.

Of course, the real winners here are the kids, whose dinner plates will be full thanks to Summer P-EBT. However, this is also a victory for those who made their voices heard. The willingness of state policymakers to listen to the people shows that public opinion matters — and that Floridians can make a difference.

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