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400,000 Children Hungry: Oklahoma Rejects Federal Summer Food Program Designed to Reduce Childhood Hunger; Tribes Step In to Fill the Void

Photo from Politico

In a disheartening decision, Oklahoma has opted out of a federal summer food program designed to reduce childhood hunger, impacting over 400,000 children in the state, as per reported by PBS NewsHour. The program, offering $40 per month per child during the summer months when schools are closed, was created to reduce childhood hunger. However, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt rejected the estimated $60 million in federal funds, citing concerns over implementation and asserting that existing state-level programs were sufficient.

400,000 Children Hungry: Oklahoma Rejects Federal Summer Food Program Designed to Reduce Childhood Hunger; Tribes Step In to Fill the Void (Photo from PBS News)

Federal Aid Denied – Oklahoma’s Struggle with Child Hunger Deepens

Three Native American groups in Oklahoma—the Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Choctaw nations—have promised to give benefits to children on their grounds, even though Oklahoma was one of only 15 states that refused to run the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program (Summer EBT). This choice, which is very different from the state’s denial, shows how committed the tribes are to ending childhood hunger.

Critics challenge Gov. Stitt’s assertion that existing programs adequately address the issue, highlighting the state’s high child hunger statistics. State Rep. Forrest Bennett criticized systematic defunding of social services, asserting that political gain has come at the expense of compassion, especially for vulnerable children.

While Oklahoma faces a record surplus, the decision to forgo federal funding raises concerns about existing gaps in food access, particularly in rural areas where food tends to be more expensive. Nonprofits, like Hunger Free Oklahoma, express worry about the challenges of providing adequate nutrition to children and to reduce childhood hunger in the state amid limited food access.

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Tribes Extend a Helping Hand – A Life-Sized Statue in the Summer EBT Program

Four tribes in Oklahoma, including the Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Choctaw nations, defy the state’s decision, committing to launch the Summer EBT program. The program, now nationally authorized, originated as a pilot more than a decade ago, with tribes collaborating to fine-tune its federal implementation to address children’s nutritional needs during school breaks.

Despite political reasons cited by several states rejecting the funding, the tribes emphasize the vital role of food security for families and overall health. Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby highlights their commitment to the program, viewing it as integral to supporting families in local communities.

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