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Fighting Hunger When School is Out: New Evidence from the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children

During the school year, over 21 million low-income children are offered free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches to ensure that each child has access to basic meals. During the summer, when these programs do not operate, many low-income children do not have access to subsidized meals. Other food assistance programs attempt to reach these children but the primary summer nutrition programs reach only 16 percent of children that receive food assistance during the regular school year.

As part of its efforts to combat child hunger, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) piloted the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children (SEBTC) Demonstration. The goal of SEBTC was to improve the food security of low-income children during the summer. When regular school was not in session, SEBTC distributed assistance to households with eligible school-age children using electronic benefit systems (EBT) cards used in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. A new report on the evaluation of the SEBTC program finds that the program reduced food insecurity among participating families.  

Abt Global and its partners, Mathematica Policy Research and MAXIMUS, conducted a random assignment evaluation of the SEBTC demonstration in 2011, 2012, and 2013 and tested impacts of a $60 per child monthly benefit compared to no benefit, or a $30 per child monthly benefit compared to a $60 per child benefit. Among the report’s findings:

  • The $60 per month per child benefit reduced by one-third the most severe category of food insecurity among children during the summer.
  • The $30 benefit was as effective in reducing the most severe category of food insecurity among children during the summer as the $60 benefit. However, the $60 benefit reduced less severe food insecurity by about 10 percent compared to the $30 benefit.
  • Households in the $30 and $60 groups redeemed their benefits at similar rates.
  • Children in households receiving the $60 benefit ate slightly more nutritious foods than children in the $30 group, and substantially better than children with no benefit.

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