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Montana will opt-out of a free food assistance program for kids, officials say

Young children eating in a school cafeteria. Stock photo.

The Montana state health department said it’s opting out of a free pandemic-era program to provide nutrition assistance to kids this year, citing the administrative burden.

Health department spokesperson Jon Ebelt in an email gave two primary reasons the state decided not to administer the pandemic electronic benefit transfer program (P-EBT) this year. He said the federally-funded program was designed to provide temporary food relief to families when schools were shut down during the pandemic and that administering the program is labor intensive for both schools and the health department.

Dozens of food assistance organizations sent a letter to the health department and Gov. Greg Gianforte in April asking them to re-enroll in the program this year, including the Montana Budget and Policy Center. Jackie Semmens is a budget analyst for the nonprofit.

“Unfortunately, it means that a lot of kids are going to struggle with food insecurity this summer when DPHHS could’ve done something to alleviate that,” Semmens said.

Montana signed on to receive the funds in each of the last two years and distributed more than $97 million loaded onto cards for families to purchase food. The federal government pays for all costs associated with administering P-EBT.

Missoula Food Bank and Community Center Executive Director Amy Allison Thompson said food insecurity is on the rise in Missoula. She also said the food bank served an all-time record number of people in a single day just this week.

“We are, essentially, as a state, leaving $10 million on the table that could be going to children in Montana,” Thompson said.

35 states and Washington D.C. have chosen to administer the benefits this summer so far.

Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

He is best reached by emailing
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