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Montana Lawmakers Boost Summer Food Assistance Benefits

Montana produce sits on a table at the Reimagining School Lunch test kitchen on March 28th, 2021. The recipe testers use local ingredients like these to test recipes for potential school lunch meals.
Megan Myscofski
/
Montana Public Radio

Montana lawmakers voted Thursday to give 14,000 women, children and infants receiving public food assistance a boost in benefits this summer. The money is meant to help them buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

A committee tasked with deciding how to spend some of Montana’s federal stimulus voted unanimously to set aside about $1 million to help low-income families buy produce through the summer.

The committee voted just in time to participate in the federal government’s expansion of the WIC food assistance program.

Democratic Rep. Mary Caferro spoke in support of the extra summer benefits.

“I think of pregnant women, infants and children being able to put more fresh fruits and vegetables into their bellies, and that’s a really good thing for this summer.”

Adam Meier, director of the state health department, presented the proposal to give women and children who receive food assistance up to an additional $35 a month for fruits and vegetables. That is about three times more than the current allocation.

Families who make less than 185% of the federal poverty level are eligible for the program. For families of three, that equals an annual income of about $40,000 per year.

Meier clarified the state is not obligated to continue the program when the federal dollars run out.

“We’ll be communicating that these are time-limited additional benefits,” Meier said.

The boost in benefits will be available from June through September.

Gov. Greg Gianforte, who appointed Meier, vetoed a bill last week that would have doubled the purchasing power of food assistance benefits for fresh produce for at least the next two years. Gianforte said that existing federal funds would fill the need.

The Health Advisory Commission that approved the policy is one of four commissions charged with deciding how to spend $2 billion the state received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

The committee is in charge of appropriating $11 million for supplemental nutrition assistance programs, $112 million for child care and $22 million for vaccine distribution and supply.

The Health Advisory Commission will next meet on June 3.

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