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Implementing Summer EBT: Key Considerations

March 21, 2024

For years, children eligible for subsidized school lunches have been out of luck during the summer when school is out. With hunger widespread in the U.S., policymakers and researchers have worked to tackle the food insecurity challenge. The Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (Summer EBT) pilot programs, which helped more than 100,000 children a year, proved there is a solution.  

For a decade, Abt Global evaluated the Summer EBT program pilots, which provided families a way to buy nutritious food. The programs helped reduce food insecurity by a third while increasing the nutritional value of the children’s diet. And families valued the program, as an 80 percent average participation rate showed.  

In 2023, new bipartisan legislation made Summer EBT permanent, potentially helping 29 million kids. But each state, territory, and Tribal Organization has different needs. Officials must figure out how to roll out food programs tailored in ways that fit local needs and make sense for their communities.   

At an Abt webinar on Summer EBT implementation aimed at program administrators and coordinators, we discussed some of the main issues facing solutions to food insecurity:  

Identifying Eligible Students 

One of the most important considerations is access to lists of children eligible for benefits. While this proved to be a challenge early in the Summer EBT pilots, Abt found choosing the appropriate data system for student identification or creating a data system for this purpose supports implementation success.  

Identifying eligible students also requires close partnerships among agencies that may already serve eligible youth. Relevant agencies must share eligibility information and establish a plan for updating records of eligible households. Schools are a key player in addressing challenges of food insecurity. They can notify potentially eligible families, and they may automatically enroll students already in school lunch programs in the Summer EBT program.  


Adapting Retail Operations 

Summer EBT programs can support access to nutritious food only if those foods are on the shelves of local stores. Retail operations must ensure stores stay stocked with EBT-approved products used simultaneously in other benefit systems such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. For WIC-based programs, retailers may require outreach from WIC and suppliers to ensure adequate stocks of approved foods such as bread, milk, cheese, eggs, fruits, and vegetables.  

Establishing Co-loading Rules 

In considering how to solve food insecurity more broadly, implementers must determine whether to load cards with SNAP, WIC, and Summer EBT benefits or to use separate cards to distribute benefits. Abt’s evaluations found co-loading cards with benefits from SNAP or WIC and Summer EBT increased redemption rates. But various programs have different rules and methods of distribution, so co-loading may place an extra administrative burden on implementers. Co-loading requires rules for loading, drawing down, and delivering the benefits to recipients, including the order in which benefits are drawn down from different programs and when benefits expire.   

Hammering out the details of a state or Tribal Organization program can be a complex undertaking. With a decade of evaluations and experience with Summer EBT pilots under our belt, Abt is positioned to help. We know how governments can provide food benefits to those who need it—and how to collaborate on making the promise of reducing food insecurity through Summer EBT a reality.    

To get updates about future webinars, sign up for our U.S. Food Security & Agriculture newsletter:  

Learn more about Abt’s ongoing work on this project: 

For more information, please contact 

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