Opinion: Ga.’s children set to pay price of politics

Rejected summer food program could’ve helped 1 million kids here.
The city of Atlanta’s Summer Food Program runs through July 27. CONTRIBUTED

The city of Atlanta’s Summer Food Program runs through July 27. CONTRIBUTED

Many Georgia children welcome the last day of school and the summer vacation that follows, but for more than a million students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the last day of school is also the last day they can count on not being hungry.

That’s why, in a rare bipartisan move, Congress passed legislation in 2022 to make the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer Program permanent and available to every state. This program, along with the Summer Food Service Program have one simple goal - to reduce child hunger during the summer break from school.

As a result, low-income families in 35 states, led by both Democratic and Republican governors, will now receive up to $120 per eligible child to help purchase food during the summer. Unfortunately, because Gov. Brian Kemp has chosen to reject this federal taxpayer-funded program, Georgia children will not benefit from this important safety net.

State Rep. Tanya F. Miller

Credit: contributed

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Credit: contributed

When it comes to the future of our students, Gov. Kemp advocates an “all of the above approach” when supporting his own agenda to implement school vouchers, but, inexplicably, not when it comes to feeding hungry children. Because Gov. Kemp and 14 other Republican governors have rejected this new program, 8 million children in 15 states will not be assisted by the $2.5 billion in federal funds.

Why is Gov. Kemp refusing to accept this important funding? He asserted that Georgia’s existing programs are sufficient to meet the needs of our children. However, Ife Finch Floyd, director of economic justice for the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, rejected that claim, noting that this decision will leave 1,156,000 children (65% of Georgia’s public school students) without Summer EBT. Both Gov. Kemp’s choice and his rationale for it are faulty and will have real-life consequences for families who will not be able to afford sufficient food for their children.

Not only will this have immediate consequences for the well-being of our most vulnerable kids, but it will have knock-on effects that many will carry with them for years, if not the rest of their lives. According to Feeding America, a national nonprofit which works to alleviate food insecurity, “research shows an association between food insecurity and delayed development in young children; risk of chronic illnesses like asthma and anemia; and behavioral problems like hyperactivity, anxiety and aggression in school-age children.”

This decision will also make Georgia less safe. According to a recent study from Georgia State University, there is a strong association between food insecurity and violent crimes, including murder, rape and robbery. At a time when Republicans take every opportunity to parrot tough talk about reducing crime, they are choosing to ignore one of the simplest, lowest-cost solutions - feeding people.

For a state that claims to be both pro-life and pro-child, this is a downright inhumane, cruel decision with absolutely no good explanation. It is, however, consistent with other choices by our Republican-led state government, including the decision to reject Medicaid expansion so that more Georgia children can see their doctor when they’re sick.

Too often, when it comes to our children, our words simply do not match our actions. This can - and must - change.

Georgians should not be treated as pawns in a political game. Gov. Kemp’s rejection of federal funds to feed hungry children is not only immoral, but also an affront to the very citizens who diligently pay their hard-earned money into both the federal and state coffers. Leadership should extend beyond the prosperity of Georgia’s corporations and the business community; it should prioritize the fundamental well-being of our people. Georgia citizens deserve leaders who recognize that the call to feed hungry children is not a political maneuver but a moral imperative. Gov. Kemp should allow our tax dollars to be a force for good, including ensuring that no child in our care goes hungry.

State Rep. Tanya F. Miller, D-Atlanta, represents House District 62. She is deputy whip of the Georgia House Democratic Caucus and chair of the Social and Civil Justice Committee, Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.

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