No child deserves to go hungry. Last week, the Idaho Legislature had the opportunity to move our kids closer to food security and correct a grave mistake. In a confounding and disappointing vote, nearly every Republican senator voted down legislation that would have done just that.

When the school year ends, it’s the last day thousands of Idaho children can count on free and reduced lunch. That’s why Congress passed bipartisan legislation in 2022 to make Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) available to every state. Summer EBT allows income-eligible children to receive $40 in monthly food assistance per child. While modest, this benefit is a lifeline to families living paycheck-to-paycheck.

In 2023, Idaho’s state agencies dropped the ball when it came to adopting Summer EBT. There was unhelpful finger-pointing when the press reported that Idaho kids would be left behind while most eligible kids across the country would benefit.

I was hopeful we could course-correct this legislative session when Dawn Pierce, a dedicated anti-hunger advocate, met with me. She had worked hard to build support for Summer EBT and listed the Idaho businesses and organizations that had endorsed it. I assured her that our Democratic Caucus would vote in favor and we ended our meeting optimistic that Idaho would do the right thing.

After all, Summer EBT has a fantastic return on investment, which makes it an easy sell. The federal government covers the cost of benefits and half the administrative expenses. Idaho’s investment would be $545,000, constituting 0.01% of the general fund budget. In return, $16.3 million worth of food assistance would be available for kids.

Despite the clear benefits, 25 out of 28 Senate Republicans voted to block these resources for Idaho families. In their debate, many parroted talking points from a far-right, out-of-state group. These lobbyists came out of nowhere to push their national agenda.

Objections to the program were rife with misinformation. Republican Sen. Brian Lenney complained about “rich kids” accessing funds, which is inaccurate. Only children in households below 185 percent of the federal poverty line are eligible. For a single parent with two children, that’s $47,767 annually — not exactly well-off.

Meanwhile, GOP Sen. Cindy Carlson proclaimed, “I believe that the message we need to be sending is we all need to work for what we get.” It’s cruel to suggest that a hungry fourth-grader must work to deserve food.

Idaho kids now risk going hungry because Republican legislators catered to out-of-state special interests, ignored nonprofit advocates working in Idaho and turned a blind eye to kids in need.

This vote is another devastating reminder that Republican extremism has real consequences. This time, our kids are paying the price.


Lauren Necochea
Idaho Democratic Party Chair