Listen Live
Listen Live

On Air Next

Washington students to get SUN Bucks summer meal cards in new federal program

SHARE NOW

(The Center Square) – More than 500,000 Washington state children will receive new EBT cards for summer meals.

The Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer program called SUN Bucks was approved by the federal government in 2022, but this is the first year each participating state has access to the funds.

SUN Bucks is similar to a program that helped feed families during the COVID-19 pandemic, but is in fact a different program.

The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services is partnering with the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to distribute benefits starting in early June.

DSHS spokesperson Norah West provided some details.

“This is the first summer for all states to implement SUN Bucks, and it’s a $120 food benefit for families who are eligible for free and reduced priced meals already; they are automatically eligible,” she explained.

Some school districts in Washington are now providing free school meals to all students regardless of income eligibility, but the SUN Bucks program is income based.

“Students will need to be individually eligible, that’s a key difference from the pandemic EBT program,” West said. “In this case you have to have turned in that free and reduced price application at the beginning of the school year.”

Children whose families are up to 185% of the federal poverty line – nearly $58,000 for a family of four – can qualify for the program.

For students who are not automatically eligible, there will be an application on the DSHS website starting in June, according to West, while students who are already eligible will receive the summer meal cards in the mail in the next couple of weeks.

“Students need nutritious meals to learn and grow,” state Superintendent Chris Reykdal said in a news release. “This program is an important way that we support the well-being of children and families across our state.”

There are restrictions on the types of food and drinks the cards can be used for.

“It’s fresh fruits and vegetables, farmers markets, anywhere that EBT benefits are accepted,” said West.

The list of retailers that accept SUN cards includes several gas stations stores and other convenience stores that may not offer the healthiest choices for students.

“Energy drinks are eligible for EBT. You couldn’t buy a hot dog at 7-Eleven because it’s a hot food which is not EBT eligible, but you could buy a take and bake pizza because that’s cold when you get it,” West said. “Groceries are expensive and without access to those meals during summer months, this can be a very real way to support those families.”

The program is covered by federal dollars, but Washington lawmakers did have to allocate nearly $2.5 million in taxpayer spending for DSHS administration of the program.

According to OSPI, SUN Bucks benefits are in addition to other summer Child Nutrition Programs already offered. Families are encouraged to continue participating in congregate and grab-and-go meals as well as other summer food programs at their local schools and community locations, even if they receive summer benefits.

Families with questions about SUN Bucks benefits can call the SUN Bucks Contact Center at 1-833-543-3230, and families can opt in for text messaging alerts about their child’s SUN Bucks status at textsunbucks.dshs.wa.gov.