The Colorado Legislature could opt-in to a federal program that gives families a summertime stipend for groceries. (Getty Images)
While the headline issue of the ongoing special legislative session is working out property tax relief for next year, Colorado Democrats also want to use the unexpected time in the Capitol building to opt in to a new federal program that provides summer nutrition assistance for students in low-income households.
Senate Bill 23B-2 would let Colorado join the federal Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer program, which is set to begin next year. States need to sign up for the program by Jan. 1 in order to access benefits next summer, so this special legislative session is the only opportunity lawmakers have before they reconvene for the regular session early next year.
“This bill — big picture — is about making sure that kids have food. During the school year, sometimes for some kids, the only meals they get are the ones they get at school. And during the summer, the amount they get goes way, way down,” bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Bridges, an Arapahoe County Democrat, said during the bill’s Senate committee hearing on Friday.
“It does not solve childhood hunger, but it does bring money from the federal government here into Colorado to help feed kids,” he said.
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In total, the bill would clear the way for an estimated $35 million benefit for about 300,000 children in the state. Families would receive $40 per month per eligible child on a pre-loaded card to use on groceries. It is similar to an expired program that provided assistance to families with children during the height of the pandemic.
Summer EBT is intended to serve children who use the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program during the school year but lose access to those free and reduced meals during the summer months. It is meant to work alongside other nutrition programs, such as SNAP, WIC and summer meal sites.
Previous research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that Summer EBT can decrease the number of children with very low food insecurity by one-third. Food insecurity refers to eating habits that are disrupted due to financial constraints.
The Colorado bill specifically gives the Colorado Department of Education — the board of which publicly supports the bill — and the Colorado Department of Human Services the legal authority to operate the program. It would require a $6.6 million appropriation for the current fiscal year and $4.5 million for the next fiscal year, according to the bill’s fiscal note.
Colorado would be one of the first states to take part in Summer EBT, which Congress established last year as part of the consolidated appropriations act, if the bill passes both chambers and is signed by Gov. Jared Polis. Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia have also indicated to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that they intend to participate.
The Senate passed the bill on a 32-2 vote Friday. It was introduced in the House on Saturday and is set to be considered by its House committee Sunday.
The bill’s prime sponsors are Bridges, Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada, Rep. Shannon Bird of Westminster and Rep. Lorena Garcia of Adams County, all Democrats.
It is the only bill so far that has made it to the floor and received bipartisan support during the special session. Republican Sens. Barbara Kirkmeyer of Weld County and Janice Rich of Grand Junction signed on as sponsors and Republican Sen. Byron Pelton of Sterling added his name as a co-sponsor.
The special session of the Legislature will last until at least Monday.
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