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Governor Cooper Announces SUN Bucks Program to Feed One Million North Carolina School Children this Summer

Governor Roy Cooper hosted Administrator of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Services Cindy Long to celebrate the launch of SUN Bucks, the state’s newest food assistance program to help prevent child hunger. Governor Cooper thanked six philanthropic partners in North Carolina who are contributing generously to support SUN Bucks, joining leaders from the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) and the NC Department of Public Instruction (NC DPI) to successfully launch the program.

North Carolina will receive around $120 million in federal benefits to feed over a million school children in North Carolina this summer. The first benefits from the SUN Bucks program will begin to be issued to eligible families across the state next week.

“Summer can be a hard time for children who rely on our public schools for a healthy school breakfast and lunch,” said Governor Cooper. “Nearly one in six North Carolina children face food insecurity at home and this effort helps make sure they get the nutritious food they need.”

North Carolina is one of only three states in the Food and Nutrition Services Southeast Region to take advantage of the new USDA program. The purpose of SUN Bucks, also referred to as Summer EBT, is to provide food assistance to school-aged children and help bridge the financial gap for families during the summer months.

The North Carolina SUN Bucks program is a cross-sector collaboration between USDA, NCDHHS, NCDPI and philanthropic partners. The program was made possible by contributions from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, Smithfield Foods, The Leon Levine Foundation, Dogwood Health Trust, Cone Health Foundation and Brighthouse Financial.

"We applaud North Carolina for stepping up as a leader and implementing Summer EBT in its inaugural year,” said Administrator Long. “This is an unprecedented opportunity to dramatically reduce child summer hunger. We at USDA are excited to be partnering with North Carolina this summer and look forward helping more states come on board for Summer 2025.”

Families will receive a one-time payment of $120 per eligible child to purchase nutritious foods during the summer — a critical benefit for the 1 in 6 children in North Carolina who live in households without consistent access to food.

“Access to good food is essential to good health and well-being,” said NC Health and Human Services Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. “Every kid should be able to enjoy the summer without worrying where their next meal will come from. SUN Bucks helps to ensure children in North Carolina have access to the healthy nutrition they need to thrive.”

Nearly 60% of public school students across the state qualify for free and reduced-price meals at school and are at higher risk for hunger when the school year ends. SUN Bucks is the newest addition to an array of nutrition programs aimed at ensuring these students continue to get nutritious foods while out of school for the summer.

“Every dollar counts for families working to put enough food on the table while kids are out of school,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt. “Our goal for the SUN Bucks program is to help make sure no child in North Carolina goes hungry this summer.”

Most eligible children and families automatically qualify for the SUN Bucks program with no action needed to receive the $120 payment. Benefits will be issued beginning Friday, June 14. Families with children who currently receive FNS will see their SUN Bucks benefits loaded onto their existing EBT card, and all other children will receive a SUN Bucks card in the mail.

For children who do not automatically qualify but may be eligible for SUN Bucks, NCDHHS will send an email and text message to families with instructions on how to apply.

Applications will be accepted through Aug. 31, 2024, for the 2024 summer period.

For more information, visit the updated SUN Bucks website and SUN Bucks Frequently Asked Questions. Eligibility requirements are available in English and Spanish. To contact a SUN Bucks customer representative, families can dial 1-866-719-0141 and press option 2.

To learn more about summer nutrition programs and to find summer meal sites in your area, visit NCDPI’s Summer Meals webpage.

Quotes from the SUN Bucks philanthropic partners:

“School food plays such a critical role in the lives of North Carolina children, from improving academic performance to providing the daily nourishment that many families rely on throughout the school year. The significance of SUN Bucks in helping kids access this nourishment during the summer months cannot be overstated,” said John Lumpkin, president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. “We are so pleased to be part of the coalition of supporters and partners helping to bring this new, and important, opportunity to children and families across our state.”

“Fighting food insecurity and hunger is a top priority for Smithfield,” said Steve Evans, vice president of Community Development for Smithfield Foods. “We’re humbled to do our part in the communities where we live and work so our neighbors can continue to access healthy and nutritious food throughout the summer when schools aren’t in session.”

“We are proud to partner with NCDHHS to ensure the launch of SUN Bucks this summer so that families with children will have access to nutritious food while school is not in session,” said Tom Lawrence, president and chief executive officer of The Leon Levine Foundation.

“Availability of healthy, nutritious food is an important social driver of health. Food insecurity among children continues to be an issue in North Carolina, particularly during the summer months,” said Susan Shumaker, president of the Cone Health Foundation. “Cone Health Foundation is committed to supporting equitable access to healthy food. We are pleased to be one of the philanthropic partners that supported NCDHHS’ efforts to support families having groceries on their tables this summer through the SUN Bucks program.”

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