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Muscogee Nation offers EBT amount identical to program Oklahoma turned down

A child grabs a small plate of food in a school cafeteria.

Because Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt opted out of a Summer EBT program to feed children, the Muscogee Nation has decided to give practically identical benefits.

The Muscogee, Chickasaw and Cherokee nations have partnered with the United States Department of Agriculture and the nonprofit Hunger Free Oklahoma to pool together $16 million from their organizations and matching grants as a stand-in for the EBT program. Both Native and non-Native children are eligible for the program.

The program puts $40 on EBT cards monthly. This is the same amount in the EBT program Stitt opted out of in January, which would have made the money available to children eligible for free or reduced school lunches. USDA estimated more than 400,000 children throughout the state would have been eligible for the program.

Children whose families make less than 50% above federal poverty requirements are eligible for the program. This means a family of four that makes $55,000 a year is eligible, according to Muscogee spokesperson Jason Salsman.

Salsman says roughly 105,000 children are eligible in the boundaries of his nation alone, which includes the Jenks, Union, Bixby and Glenpool school districts and the southern half of Tulsa Public Schools.

"A lot of these kids, they count on school for their food. And I know that’s a sobering thought, but that’s the reality of it," said Salsman.

Tulsa Public Schools officials said they were happy for the Muscogee Nation's initiative, which is separate from its summer cafe program that feeds students independent of federal programs.

When asked about the governor choosing to opt out of the EBT program, Salsman focused on his tribe’s efforts.

"That’s just the mantra and the state of mind that we have around here. If there’s a need around here, if there’s something we can do for our people, for our community, for our future, we’re going to do it," Salsman said.

Stitt told reporters he opted out of the EBT program because he didn't have enough information about it and the rules weren't finalized.

The Governor's spokesperson Abegail Cave referred the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange to a statement from Stitt, in which he argues cutting income and grocery taxes are effective ways to put food on Oklahomans’ tables. Stitt is pushing to eliminate both taxes this legislative session.

Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS.
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