WASHINGTON — The White House has called out Florida and other GOP-led states for not opting into a summer food assistance program for kids. 

What You Need To Know

  • Congress passed legislation for a Summer EBT Program in 2022

  • Florida did not apply to participate in the program
  • White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that decision will impact more than two million children in Florida, and leaves $250 million on the table

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Florida’s choice not to implement a new, permanent Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer Program could impact more than two million Florida children who would have been eligible for the food assistance. 

"It is $250 million that is left on the table that the governor of Florida, Gov. DeSantis decided to opt out of," Jean-Pierre told Spectrum News. "It costs Floridians nothing." 

Congress passed legislation to establish the permanent Summer EBT Program in 2022 to fill the gap when kids are out of school. 

It provides low-income families $120 — $40 per month for three months in the summer — for each eligible child to buy food at places like grocery stores and farmers' markets. 

"It is truly, truly shameful, that they are not opting into these programs." Jean-Pierre said. "We're talking about making sure that children in low-income families ... are getting the summer lunches, right? And one of the things that we learned during this pandemic is food insecurity. How terrible that is that was to our children. And so we need to make sure that we're taking care of our kids."

Iowa was another state that did not apply for the program. In a December news release, the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services and the Iowa Department of Education said the agencies were declining to participate and would instead enhance existing state programs, arguing it did “not have a strong nutrition focus” and that "participating states are required to cover half of the administrative costs."

Last month, all of Florida’s Democrats in Congress sent a letter to DeSantis, urging him to apply to the program in time for the Jan. 1 deadline. In response to the state’s decision to reject the money, Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor said in a statement: “Governor DeSantis is putting Florida families at a disadvantage yet again due to his extreme politics.”

Across the country, the White House expects the program to serve 21 million children.

Spectrum News repeatedly reached out to the DeSantis' office for comment, but did not receive a response.