(Columbia, SC) — Democrats in the Statehouse are expressing strong disapproval of Republican Governor Henry McMaster’s recent choice to withdraw South Carolina from a new federal initiative aimed at combating child hunger. Critics argue that this decision will potentially deny thousands of eligible low-income families the additional financial support needed to provide meals for their children during periods when school is not in session.
Governor McMaster’s decision pertains to a federal program supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, utilizing the existing Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system. The initiative aims to provide eligible families with $120 per child each month during periods like summer, when children may lack access to free or reduced-cost meals through school or after-school programs.
Originally launched as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program gained permanency through a government funding bill passed by Congress in December 2022. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the program will positively impact around 21 million children across the 35 states that opted to participate, as highlighted in a recent news release.
Participation in the program involves a financial commitment from South Carolina taxpayers, who would share a 50-50 cost split with the federal government for program administration. Estimates suggest an annual cost to the state of up to $3 million.
Despite being one of the 15 states that chose to opt out, Governor McMaster justified the decision by expressing a desire to move beyond relief programs created during the COVID-19 era, citing a need to return to normal business operations. He assured reporters that while the state is discontinuing certain programs, others, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), will continue unaffected.
It is important to note that the Summer EBT program is not the sole federally funded meal initiative available for impoverished children in South Carolina. The state Department of Education’s Office of Health and Nutrition reports that both the United States Department of Agriculture-funded Summer Break Café and Seamless Summer Option programs collectively provided approximately 3.2 million meals to children across South Carolina last summer.
As this decision generates debate and criticism, the impact on low-income families and children’s access to essential nutrition remains a central concern for those opposing the state’s withdrawal from the federal childhood hunger program.