Kim Reynolds finally decides to help feed some kids, but there’s a big catch

AP Photo by Charlie Neibergall.

By Ty Rushing

April 10, 2024

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Wednesday that Iowa will start a competitive $900,000 grant program to feed Iowa children over the summer—this comes months after she declined $29 million in federal funds to feed kids via a different summer program.

The new Summer Meal Program Expansion Grant will be launched through two existing federal programs and its purpose is to create additional summer meal sites for children in underserved parts of Iowa. The program will provide up to $30,000 for new sponsors willing to host a summer meal site, and smaller grants to help existing programs expand.

The Iowa Department of Education will administer the program in conjunction with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“Providing young Iowans with access to free, nutritious meals in their communities during the summer months has always been a priority,” Reynold said. “With the Summer Meal Program Expansion Grant, we will expand these well-established programs across our state to ensure Iowa’s youth have meals that are healthy and use local community farms and vendors when possible.”

In December, Reynolds announced that Iowa would decline to participate in a federal Summer Electronic Benefits (EBT) program through the USDA that would have given Iowa $29 million in federal funds to feed about 240,000 children.

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.”

Unironically, Reynolds is using federal COVID-relief dollars to pay for the new grant program. The $900,000 will come from federal American Rescue Plan dollars allocated to Iowa.

Meanwhile, participating in the Summer EBT program would have cost Iowa $2.2 million in administrative fees, far less than the $29 million the state would get in return. The state also has a budget surplus of more than a billion dollars.

Since Reynolds’ initial stance in December, Iowa Democrats and anti-hunger advocates have urged her to reconsider her position on the Summer EBT program, and reviews were mixed for Reynolds’ new proposal.

“While I appreciate the governor finally doing something for hungry children in our state, the competitive grant program announced today amounts to crumbs for Iowa kids,” said Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott (D-West Des Moines). “Gov. Reynolds could have accepted $29 million in federal food assistance that would’ve reached 240,000 children in every corner of the state.

“The $900,000 state program she announced today is tiny by comparison— and forces Iowa communities to compete for a sliver of that much smaller pie,” she continued. “It’s not enough to meet the real needs facing our state. And it doesn’t make up for her decision to let Iowa kids go hungry.”

Rep. Sami Scheetz, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids who has championed legislation to provide free and reduced school meals for all students, described Reynolds’ grant program as a “convoluted mess.”

“This alternative proposal is not only a labyrinth of red tape, but a clear downgrade from the direct and accessible aid provided by Summer EBT,” Scheetz said. “Instead of ensuring that every child in need receives $40 monthly for food, the governor’s program forces families to navigate a patchwork system of meal sites, which may not even be within practical reach for many.

  • 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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