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OPINION: Lack of supplemental food access will devastate Nevada families this summer

Nicole Lamboley
Nicole Lamboley
Beth Martino
Beth Martino

Students across Nevada are weeks away from summer break. While many students look forward to a break from classroom time and studying, many parents face another worry: how to keep food on the table without the federally funded school breakfast and lunch program.

One in five children in Nevada resides in a food-insecure household. Supplemental child nutrition programs aren’t just nice to have, they are critical to ensuring all children have regular access to healthy food.  

School breakfast and lunch are essential for student health and well-being, especially for low-income students. Research shows that receiving free or reduced-price school meals reduces food insecurity, obesity rates and poor health. With fewer than two weeks remaining before public school’s summer break, Nevada students and families are at a critical juncture. The summer break months are the hungriest time of year for food insecure families with school-age children.

In December 2023, Nevada successfully submitted its intent to participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program. Summer EBT will provide eligible families $40 each summer month per school-age child to buy food at grocery stores, farmers markets or other authorized retailers. 

The program is federally funded, but states must cover half of all administrative costs. Currently, Nevada has only approved $900,000 of the more than $3 million the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services indicates is necessary for the state matching funds to run this program in 2024. If left unresolved, this failure will result in the more than 352,000 eligible Nevada children and their families being left alone to worry about where their next meals will come from this summer. As a state we tend to leave federal money on the table and our most vulnerable often suffer.

The Summer EBT program is neither new nor unproven. It is modeled after the COVID-era Pandemic EBT program, which successfully aided more than 300,000 Nevada children and increased SNAP assistance by approximately 15 percent. The Summer EBT program makes permanent an initiative that was tested during the pandemic and through various pilot programs during the past decade. A review of these pilot programs found that offering summer benefits reduced child food insecurity and helped kids eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.

This call for full program funding comes at a time when Nevadans face the second highest grocery prices in the nation and are increasingly struggling to put nutritious food on the table. In addition, rents remain high relative to median income, with recent reports indicating that, “a person earning minimum wage — currently $11.25 an hour if an employer doesn’t offer health insurance — would need to work 82 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment in the Silver State.”

In statements given from community partners directly to Food Bank of Northern Nevada and Three Square, major figures have expressed the dire need to address this issue. Among them include Kelvin Watson, executive director for the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District in Southern Nevada.

“From the front lines, we’re seeing lots of kids facing food insecurity, and it’s obvious that supplemental food programs are vital for struggling families,” he said, noting the library district’s partnership  with Three Square for supplemental child nutrition programming. “Without the continuation of these programs, more kids will struggle, and it’ll make it harder for them to do well in school and in life.”

In Northern Nevada, local pantry partners are voicing similar sentiment.

"Summer can be such a difficult time for kids," said Cindy Becher, executive director of the St. Francis of Assisi Food Pantry. "We are seeing such an increase in need and families can really use all of the supports we can offer."

In addition to Summer EBT providing essential support for Nevada families, it also serves as an economic boon for Nevada’s communities as every dollar spent on SNAP generates between $1.50 and $2 in local economic activity. Summer EBT could result in an additional $42,240,000 in nutrition benefits for the state’s struggling families, and, at the lowest level, $63,360,000 in local economic activity each summer.

Nevada’s food banks — Food Bank of Northern Nevada and Three Square — along with their vast networks of nonprofit partners and stakeholders — ensure students and families receive dignified and equitable access to nutrition support. Nevada’s students and families deserve more and funding the Summer EBT program stands as one of the best and most easily accomplished opportunities to provide that support.

Nevada remains laser-focused on doing things the Nevada Way, and that must include looking out for the state’s most vulnerable population: children.

Nicole Lamboley is the president and chief executive officer of Food Bank of Northern Nevada, which serves more than 150,000 Northern Nevadans monthly across 13 Nevada counties.

Beth Martino is the president and chief executive officer of Three Square, which serves more than 140,000 Southern Nevadans monthly across Clark, Esmeralda, Lincoln and Nye counties.

The Nevada Independent welcomes informed, cogent rebuttals to opinion pieces such as this. Send them to [email protected].


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