Montana is Systematically Denying Help to Hungry Families 

May 04, 2023

Over the past few years, a troubling pattern has emerged – Montana lawmakers have been systematically denying hungry families chances to make ends meet. This summer, Montana children are at risk of losing yet another opportunity if the state does not allow families to receive Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT).

Denial of food assistance to children is becoming a pattern in Montana:

This pattern of denial is having devastating consequences on Montana families. Children are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. In Montana, one in eight children face food insecurity. In a classroom of 24 kids, three are wondering about their next meal.

Montana has another opportunity to address childhood hunger, but yet again is turning away.

Summer has long been a source of anxiety for many families whose low wages make grocery shopping difficult. Children are more likely to face hunger during the summer months while school is closed.

But Montana has yet to accept $10 million in federal funds that would help struggling families put food on their children’s plates. This year, P-EBT could help 73,000 Montana children.

P-EBT first became an option in the spring of 2020, when schools closed and families who relied on free- and reduced-price school meals were left facing additional burdens. The fully federally funded program helped provide families with food assistance during school closures. In the summers of 2021, 2022, and 2023, states have also been able to issue summer P-EBT as many families face additional financial strain during the summer months.

Despite not creating a plan for school aged children in 2021-2022, Montana has participated in this program in some capacity every year since its beginning. The state, however, has yet to create the necessary plan to allow families to receive their benefits.

Montana is an outlier in its denial of food assistance to families.

Most states have already created plans to accept funds to assist families who rely on free and reduced price school lunches during school closures. Tennessee, Wyoming, and Alabama are among the 31 states and territories who have already created a plan, been approved, and will soon begin distributing funds to children in need.

While Montana’s denial of food assistance to children and families has made it an outlier even among conservative states. Montana ended it’s additional pandemic assistance before nearly every other state, denying the opportunity for these federal funds to support families during a period of sharply rising food prices.

P-EBT has helped thousands of Montana families.

Since March of 2020, P-EBT has brought in $94 million in benefits to thousands of Montana families. This year, 73,000 children could potentially benefit from P-EBT and bring an additional $10 million in federal funds into the state. Not only would these funds help families make ends meet, they would be spent at the 750 stores in Montana which accept P-EBT, and support our local economy.

Permanent Summer EBT will soon be an option in Montana.

If Montana does not pursue P-EBT this year, it will miss its last opportunity to use full federal funding to build a summer benefit distribution system. In 2024, states will be able to provide permanent summer EBT to help alleviate summer hunger. The administrative costs for P-EBT are currently fully federally funded, but in future years the state will pay for half of the administrative costs.

Children are at a greater risk of hunger during the summer months, and summer food assistance can help. Montana could use this opportunity to finalize a state plan for distributing summer food assistance that would be usable in the future.

Montana must end its recent trend of denial and help families.

It is time for Montana to end this dangerous pattern of denying food assistance to children and families in need. We ask Governor Gianforte to direct the Department of Public Health and Human Services to apply for P-EBT immediately. Lend your voice here to ask the governor to issue P-EBT and help ensure all Montana children have the opportunity to thrive.

Montana Budget & Policy Center

Shaping policy for a stronger Montana.

MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.