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White House drags Florida over hunger program

Politico, Kimberly Leonard, March 28 

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff dropped into Miami Gardens yesterday to talk about how the Biden administration is trying to end child hunger — and chastise Florida for not going along with the federal government’s program. 

Florida is one of 15 states that didn’t apply to get federal funds for a summer food program for kids. Had Florida accepted, needy families here would be getting $120 per child divvied up across three months over the summer, which they can use to help pay for groceries though food assistance debit cards. 

It’s a way to try to ensure 2.1 million Florida kids who typically get free or reduced-priced lunch at school can still have a way to eat during summer break, especially as inflation is still affecting buyers when they go grocery shopping. 

The Biden administration has found some other ways to get kids food through various programs, including grab-and-go or delivery options in rural areas. And earlier in the day yesterday, Emhoff was at the Miami Open to announce a partnership with the United States Tennis Association to bring nutrition programs to communities. 

Still, his Miami visit — alongside Cindy Long, the administrator of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service — shows the Biden administration wants to turn up the heat on DeSantis over the matter. 

“We’re hopeful that states such as Florida will take that money to feed these children during the summer months when they’re not in school,” Emhoff told reporters after meeting with students at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade.

“The money’s there. The need is there and the food is there — so let’s just get this done.”  U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), who appeared at the event alongside the second gentleman, stressed they were there sending a message “not only” to the governor “but legislators” and “all of the officials who decided it was not a good idea to feed our children in the summer.”

“What kind of state is that — that would refuse money to shop for groceries?” she asked rhetorically as Emhoff solemnly shook his head. 

“This is not only a message, this is a loud call for help, because these children all across the state need food when school is closed,” she added. “Open your eyes, see what’s happening. Go to the grocery store and look and see how high the groceries are.” 

DeSantis’ office didn’t respond to questions about the visit or the program. Mallory McManus, a spokesperson for the Department of Children and Families, previously told reporters that Florida’s current government food programs, such as summer BreakSpots that offer lunches at places like parks and libraries, were already “successful” and didn’t come with “strings attached.” 

The program does require states to take on half of the administrative costs, which are estimated at $12 million in Florida, per the Orlando Sentinel. The program started as a temporary pandemic relief effort and then turned permanent after getting approved as part of a 2022 bipartisan budget agreement in Congress. 

Florida could still decide to opt into the program next year, and maybe even sooner. In response to a question from Playbook, Long said it would be “extremely challenging” to get the program running in Florida now, but hedged with “we would never say never.” 

“We’re willing to work with anyone who’s interested, and the door is always open,” she said. “If it doesn’t happen this summer, it can happen next summer.”