Senate Dems try to bypass Reynolds to feed Iowa kids

Left to right: Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott and Gov. Kim Reynolds.

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By Ty Rushing

January 12, 2024

Iowa Senate Democrats are attempting to work around Gov. Kim Reynolds to secure $29 million in federal funding to feed underprivileged kids over the summer.

On Thursday, Senate Dems introduced SF 2039. This legislation would require the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services and the Iowa Department of Education to jointly apply to the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) program.

The program provides families with children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals with $40 per child per month during the summer to purchase food. Iowa is eligible to receive $29 million in federal funding to feed about 240,000 kids, but Gov. Kim Reynolds announced on Dec. 22 that Iowa would not participate in the program.

Reynolds cited several reasons for Iowa’s decision, including Iowa’s childhood obesity rate.

“Federal COVID-era cash benefit programs are not sustainable and don’t provide long-term solutions for the issues impacting children and families,” Reynolds said. “An EBT card does nothing to promote nutrition at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic.”

Participating in the program would cost Iowa $2.2 million in administrative fees, far less than the $29 million the state would stand to get in return. The state also has a budget surplus of more than a billion dollars.

SF 2039 was introduced by Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott (D-West Des Moines) and was co-sponsored by all 16 members of her caucus.

“Iowans are asking us as elected leaders to do the right thing,” Trone Garriott said. “Feeding children is always the right thing. Our legislation will make sure that no opportunity is missed for Iowa kids.”

The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services and the Iowa Department of Education had until Jan. 1 to notify the USDA whether or not Iowa would participate in the program, but have until Feb. 15 to formally apply.

Former Iowa Gov. and US AG Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters Thursday he was disappointed by Reynolds’ decision, according to the Des Moines Register.

“There are several hundred thousand young people that could potentially benefit in our state,” Vilsack said. “That’s unfortunate.”

The bill is unlikely to advance any further with Republicans firmly in control of the Iowa Senate, but Sen. Izaah Knox (D-Des Moines) hopes addressing childhood hunger is enough of a cause to garner bipartisan support.

“We’re asking our colleagues to meet the urgency of the moment and ensure families have the resources and the access to put food on the table this summer,” he said.

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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