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Stopping Yet Another Welfare Program Won’t Starve Children

Stopping Yet Another Welfare Program Won’t Starve Children

Niklas Kleinworth
May 10, 2024

Let’s be clear: Idaho children are not going to go hungry without yet another government program. Conservatives were right to kill a proposal to provide food stamps for all Idaho children through something called the Summer EBT program.

Near the end of the 2024 legislative session, lawmakers considered some of the most controversial budget bills of the year, including Senate Bill 1445, the budget for the Department of Health and Welfare’s Division of Welfare.

The legislation contained a line item of just over $1 million for giving summer food stamps to school-age children. This dollar amount is deceptive, however, as it would unlock a cascade of more than $17.5 million in permanent federal spending on this welfare benefit.

Conservatives rallied during the Senate floor debate, highlighting the many concerns with this program, which would strap Idaho’s youth with government dependency. The bill failed by a 10-25 vote, forcing the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to strip the program from the budget.

This program was the quintessential example of a “temporary” government program that becomes permanent. 

The Summer EBT program started as an initiative called the Pandemic EBT program. It was designed to mitigate any food insecurity that resulted from government actions to shut down schools and large parts of the economy.

With the pandemic long behind us, it is only proper for this program to end as the funding dries up. But state and federal bureaucrats tried to make this program a permanent burden on Idaho taxpayers.

But this burden was expected to grow far beyond its stated purpose of feeding the needy.

Ordinarily, children would qualify for the program if they are also eligible for free and reduced-price lunch or food stamps. But new federal rules significantly broaden this eligibility criteria. If just 25% of the students at a school qualify for the program, then the benefits would apply to all students at that school, regardless of their family income or eligibility. This is called community eligibility.

So this program was more than a way to feed the needy. It looked more like the beginnings of a universal basic income entitlement. That scheme would put as many of Idaho’s youth on welfare as possible, making them dependent on the government to serve their basic needs.

Leftists cried foul after conservatives rejected this new entitlement program. Many claim children will starve without it. But this is untrue. The Summer EBT program would have merely duplicated other government food service programs. 

Idaho already has programs like the Summer Food Service Program and others to provide subsidized school lunches. These are on top of regular food stamps or free or reduced price lunch. Most students who would qualify under the expanded program are already eligible for those. This Summer EBT program would have merely given additional money to those receiving funds through existing programs.

The name of the game is dependency. In the case of Summer EBT, dependency is two-fold. First, implementing this program would further the leftist dream of cradle-to-grave welfare. The program would have only hooked Idaho’s youth on government handouts. A “community eligibility” approach teaches them that even people who could feed themselves should look to the government and the political process for their sustenance.

When we do find people in need, it is time we look beyond the government and to the community to offer them support. Countless nonprofit and church programs can ensure that children and families are adequately fed.

A second form of dependence comes through the way the Summer EBT program is financed — federal funds, for the most part . With this money comes strings that force otherwise conservative states to bend to the will of leftists in Washington, D.C. The Biden administration already has a history of leveraging school lunch funding to strongarm Idaho into adopting his harmful transgender bathroom and sports policies. More money only strengthens this federal control.

The irony of the whole program is that it hurts the very people it purports to help. Making this program permanent only perpetuates the exorbitant government spending that drove inflation so high that some Americans can no longer afford to feed their children for the summer. These same families, and future generations of Idahoans, will foot the bill for this expansion of government.

Conservatives were right to kill the Summer EBT welfare expansion. Without it, we are able to avoid the duplicative and harmful effects of yet another “temporary” government program that has overstayed its welcome.

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