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House, Senate near passage of bill to boost child food assistance in summer

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House, Senate near passage of bill to boost child food assistance in summer

Jun 12, 2024 | 11:46 am ET
By Ethan DeWitt
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House, Senate near passage of bill to boost child food assistance in summer
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Supporters of the effort say it will help in the season when children in lower-income families do not have access to school meals. (Getty Images)

House and Senate lawmakers are close to sending a bill to Gov. Chris Sununu that would expand food assistance for children in summer.

Senate Bill 499 will come before the House and Senate tomorrow for a final vote after “committee of conference” negotiations last week. The bill would enter New Hampshire into the federal “summer EBT” program, an initiative that allows families who participate in the free and reduced-lunch program at their public school to receive $120 per child per summer in food assistance.

Supporters of the effort say it will help in the season when children in lower-income families do not have access to school meals. 

“This is just going to be a little something extra for families when they’re doing their food shopping in the summertime,” said Rep. Laura Telerski, a Nashua Democrat, in an interview Wednesday.

The bill would also sign New Hampshire on to the “elderly simplified application project,” an effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make it easier for older residents to sign up and qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. Under that program, people over 60 will no longer need to interview to re-certify for SNAP, will have more flexibility in verifying their income, and will only need to reapply every three years. 

The bill “will make it easier for adults and folks who are disabled, living with fixed incomes, no earned income, to stay on SNAP,” said Laura Milliken, executive director of New Hampshire Hunger Solutions, an advocacy organization, in an interview Wednesday. “It gives them longer recertification periods, and therefore it will save state money, ultimately, in administrative costs.” 

And the bill includes unrelated legislation that establishes a state emergency disaster relief fund, which would allow cities and towns to apply for up to $25,000 in aid per year if the governor declares a state of emergency in their area due to a natural disaster or severe weather event. The House had requested that the annual aid cap be $100,000 per municipality per year, but Senate negotiators lowered the final amount during the committee of conference.

For state anti-hunger advocates, SB 499 has been on a journey. The bill started as a sweeping effort that included a requirement that all school districts serve breakfast in addition to lunch,  funding for initiatives such as “breakfast after the bell” to allow more students to benefit from breakfast, and provide free lunches for students who currently qualify for reduced-price meals. 

That version of the bill passed the Senate. But the House Finance Committee stripped out large portions of the bill, arguing that the state could not handle the additional spending that would be required to expand eligibility for free lunches, and raising concerns with the $1.1 million startup cost for the summer EBT program. Advocates countered that that program would bring in more than $4 million per year in federal funding, which would be spent at local food suppliers. 

In a turnaround, the House voted May 23 to override the House Finance Committee amendment and preserve the summer EBT and elderly simplified application components of the bill. That version will be voted on a final time in both chambers Thursday.

Supporters say that though the $120 per child per summer in the summer EBT program is not a large amount, it can be combined with existing SNAP benefits, and could still make a difference.

“Summer EBT both gives families with kids an extra few dollars a month during the summer when they can’t access school meals, and it brings in a huge amount of dollars to the state that will be spent in local economies,” Milliken said.