More than 21 million U.S. children received a free or reduced-price lunch each school day in 2014. But access to these meals is a challenge during the summer when school is out and summer food assistance operates on a limited scale. In fact, summer nutrition programs reach only about 16 percent of the children
that receive food assistance during the regular school year.
To address this gap, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) piloted the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children (SEBTC) Demonstration
in summers 2011 through 2014. The goal of SEBTC was to improve the food security of children during the summer who receive free and reduced-price meals during the school year. When regular school was not in session, SEBTC distributed assistance to households with eligible school-age children using electronic benefit systems (EBT) cards, similar to debit cards and commonly used by standard Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. The first two summers (2011 and 2012) tested a $60 monthly per child benefit amount. Summer 2013 compared the impacts of a $30 benefit to a $60 benefit. Summer 2014 examined implementation strategies and benefit use patterns. Abt Associates and its partners, Mathematica Policy Research and MAXIMUS, conducted the evaluation.
The $60 monthly per child benefit reduced very low food security among children—the most severe form of food insecurity-- by 33 percent. Very low food security means that children’s food intake is reduced and their normal eating habits are disrupted because their household lacks sufficient resources for food.
The $30 monthly benefit also reduced very low food security among children. The study could not detect a difference between the two benefit levels in the size of this impact.
However, the study did find that the $60 benefit reduced food insecurity among children by 9 percent more than the $30 benefit. Food insecurity occurs if children experience very low food security or experience reduced quality, variety or desirability of their diets.
Children in households receiving SEBTC ate more nutritious foods than those who did not receive the benefit, including fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
Households used about 75% of their SEBTC benefits.
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