LOGAN – The gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Chris Peterson is claiming credit for shaming the state of Utah into taking advantage of $50 million in available federal funding for food assistance.
Peterson condemned Gov. Gary Herbert and rival gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox for failing to apply for the federal funds earlier this year.
According to The New York Times, Utah was the only state in the nation to fail to apply for federal funding under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 when they originally became available in early spring.
“I am disappointed that these critical relief funds will be delivered to our families late, when thousands of Utahns are currently out-of-work and struggling to buy groceries,” the University of Utah professor and consumer advocate said in a press conference on Wednesday, July 9. “The governor was ready to leave $50 million on the table because (the program) was too complex. But this reversal of policy was better late than never.”
While deftly side-stepping the issue of what prompted Utah to belatedly apply for the federal relief funding, state officials have acknowledged that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has now approved Utah families to participate in the Pandemic-Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program.
P-EBT is a federal food assistance program that provides eligible families a one-time benefit for each child in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade that qualifies for free or reduced-price school meals. The benefit will include the cost of what would have been school meals from March 16 through May 29, 2020. Each eligible child will receive $308.
In response to Peterson’s press conference, the Utah Department of Workforce Services attributed the delay in applying for the P-EBT program to concerns about eligibility expressed by state officials.
“As with many states throughout the country, Utah faced initial difficulty in gathering the necessary data to determine eligibility when distributing this program,” according to Dale Ownby, the director of the Eligibility Services Division at DWS. “In collaboration with the Utah State Board of Education, we have now found solutions and are grateful to receive this approval in order to implement the program for our state.”
But Peterson said the state’s interest in the P-EBT program was revived only after he delivered a petition demanding action for at-risk families signed by more than 1,650 Utahns from 125 towns and cities.
“Helping hungry children is a no-brainer,” Peterson emphasized. “I’m glad that the state finally decided to heed the call of Utahns who signed our petition and provide benefits to families that need it most.”
Peterson’s running mate, Karina Brown of Nibley, echoed that sentiment,
“Our petition shows that when Utahns get involved … and make our voices heard, we can make a difference,” she added.
At DWS, Ownby predicted that the state would have an application form for the P-EBT program available online by the end of July.