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A new federal program will give eligible students $120 to buy groceries this summer

Megan Henry, Ohio Capital Journal,

Summer can be the hungriest time of the year for students who rely on free or reduced school meals and a new federal program is trying to help those families.

Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (S-EBT) — also known as SUN Bucks — is a new grocery benefit program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will give families $120 per eligible student to buy groceries during the summer.

Ohio is one of more than 30 states that has opted into the SUN Bucks program.

“We have a lot of Ohio children who rely on their school meals for their breakfasts and lunches, and in the summertime sometimes it’s very difficult for households to be able to provide meals,” said Brigette Hires, director of nutrition for the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce. “This new Summer EBT has really helped to just have another safety net for households in the summertime to be able to provide nutritious meals for their families.”

The SUN Bucks program is estimated to help 840,000 Ohio students afford groceries during the summer and is the first new permanent federal nutrition program in more than 50 years.

“This program gives direct resources to families to be able to go to the store, and pick out the foods that are best for them and their families,” said Hope Lane-Gavin, director of nutrition policy and programs for the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

Children should receive their one-time SUN Bucks payment of $120 by July 31. SUN Bucks will be added to current Ohio Direction Cards or will be mailed on a new card to eligible children.

“The distribution is happening a little bit later in the summer time than it will in subsequent summers,” Hires said. “It’s mostly just because in standing up a brand new program, there’s a lot of different processes that have to be put into place.”

Going forward, she anticipates the benefits will be distributed closer to the beginning of summer.

Eligible families who do not receive the Summer EBT benefits by July 31 should contact the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services at 1-866-244-0071.

Students who are eligible for SUN Bucks can also participate in other nutrition programs such as summer meal sites or local food pantries.  

“The programs are meant to work together to really help households provide nutritious meals for their children,” Hires said.  

SUN Bucks allows families to decide what food they want to buy which comes in handy when being mindful of different cultures, food allergies and picky eaters.

“Kids are really picky,” Lane-Gavin said. “That’s the reality. Kids are picky, and that’s OK. They still need to eat.”

Who is eligible for SUN Bucks?

Many Ohio families will be automatically enrolled while others will need to apply at

Eligible children who fall under these categories will automatically receive SUN Bucks and do not need to fill out an application:

• Children whose family receives SNAP or Ohio Works First benefits.

• Children receiving Medicaid that met the free and reduced-price lunch threshold during the previous school year.

• Children who were individually approved to receive free or reduced-price school meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) last school year.

These children may be eligible, but need to apply:

• Migrant children.

• Children who are experiencing homelessness.

• Children in families earning less than 185 percent of the federal poverty line based on their monthly income ($4,810 per month for a family of four).

• Children who receive free or reduced-price school meals but did not fill out a NSLP application.

Megan Henry is a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal and has spent the past five years reporting in Ohio on various topics including education, healthcare, business and crime. She previously worked at The Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network. Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on X.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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