Reynolds declined Summer EBT. Now, an Iowa food pantry is breaking records

Workers and volunteers man a DMARC food storage warehouse. Photo submitted

By Ty Rushing

June 5, 2024

Over 2,000 people were assisted at a DMARC food pantry, a new single-day record

The Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) assisted 2,080 individuals across its 14 permanent food pantry sites on Tuesday, setting a new record for the organization that has provided food assistance for nearly 50 years.

“The summer has always put additional burdens on families struggling with food insecurity, but this year will almost inevitably push households that are already struggling to their limits,” said DMARC CEO Matt Unger. “People are certainly being left behind when we are seeing this happen in June.”

DMARC officials noted the end of the school year coupled with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ decision to decline $29 million in federal funds to feed Iowa kids over the summer are factors in why demand is so high. May was also the second busiest month in the organization’s history.

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

Each participating child in the newly-renamed SUN Bucks program would have received $40 a month on a debit card registered to their name.

Reynolds cited several reasons for why she declined to participate in the program, 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.”

Instead, Reynolds opted to allocate $900,000 in federal COVID-relief dollars to launch the competitive summer meal grant program through two existing federal programs, which some critics dubbed a “hunger game.”

The grant program was implemented in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Education and on May 23, it was announced that 38 school districts were awarded grants to support 61 new summer meal sites.

The full list of Iowa summer meal sites is not available, but a DMARC analysis found that if all 512 previous sites returned in addition to the 61 new sites, the grant would expand the number of summer meal sites by 11% and bring in 12 school districts that previously had no meal site.

However, DMARC noted that even with the expansion, 176 of Iowa’s 327 public school distticts would not have a summer meal site in 2024, meaning 45,843 students who qualify for free or reduced school meals would still be missing provided meals.

“Imagine what an extra $40 a month for food could mean for your family,” Unger said. “For those that are most in need, right now, this new program [SUN Bucks] would have been a lifeline.

“Addressing the record levels of food insecurity we are seeing will take a concerted effort across religious communities, the business, government, and nonprofit sector,” he continued. “The nonprofit sector and community organizations aren’t capable or designed to do it alone. We are just one piece of the puzzle.”

  • 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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