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State health department won't renew a pandemic-related food assistance program

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services building
Montana Public Radio
Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services building

State health department won't renew a pandemic-related food assistance program

The director of Montana’s health department says the agency doesn’t have the resources to continue a pandemic-related food assistance program for kids.

Health department Director Adam Meier told lawmakers Tuesday the state will not reapply for the federal program that helps low-income families buy groceries when schools or daycares are closed due to COVID-19.

The Montana Food Bank Network urged the governor and health department to continue the program through the summer, and previously told lawmakers that as much as $36 million in federal funds are on the table that would help more 97,000 children.

If not renewed, the program will conclude at the end of the school year.

Sen. Mary McNally, a Democrat from Billings, said the state should prioritize the federally-funded program as inflation continues to make food prices rise.

Meier says the program comes with burdensome reporting requirements and continuing the program would take resources away from other priorities. He said demand for the program has dropped by 50% and it’s unlikely the state would qualify for the full $36 million allocation.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 21 states have been approved to offer the program through the summer.