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SUN Bucks program will help provide food during summer

This month, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) announced the launch of SUN Bucks in California, a new federal food program designed to ensure that children in families with low incomes have adequate nutrition while school is out for the summer.

“Keeping children healthy is a top priority for California, and I’m grateful to our many federal, state, and local partners for making this program a reality for California children and families,” CDSS Director Kim Johnson said. “California is among the first states in the nation to launch this new food program, which will help ensure families have food on the table during the summer.”

Children who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals through a school meal application or an alternative income form, or who receive CalFresh, CalWORKs, or Medi-Cal, are automatically enrolled. Most families will not need to take action to receive SUN Bucks.

“I am very proud that California is among the first states in the nation to issue SUN Bucks benefits to our youth. As someone who depended on government assistance in order to combat childhood hunger, I know how critical it is to ensure that our children have access to food that supports their healthy growth and development. We know that the nutritional needs of our students do not take a break when school lets out,” said Tony Thurmond, State Superintendent of Public Instruction. “The combination of SUN Bucks and the California Universal School Meal Program shows our children that we are committed to showing up for them year-round.”

SUN Bucks cards are scheduled to arrive in the mail beginning this June and continue through fall 2024. Eligible families will receive SUN Bucks electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards that can be used just like CalFresh benefits to purchase groceries. SUN Bucks will provide $120 per child, which is equivalent to $40 per month for the three months schools are typically closed during the summer.

This new program is being implemented in partnership with the California Department of Education (CDE). In addition to SUN Bucks, the Summer Meal Programs provide opportunities for children in need to access meals during the summer months. Families can locate summer meal sites in their communities using the CA Meals for Kids App or by visiting the Summer Meal Service Sites webpage.

In December 2022, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023, which created a new, permanent Summer EBT program for states to provide food benefits to families with school-age children and low-income beginning in 2024. In July 2023, California passed Assembly Bill 120, establishing the CDSS as the lead implementing agency, in partnership with the CDE, to maximize Summer EBT program participation for summer 2024.

Children who are not automatically enrolled for SUN Bucks must apply for free or reduced-price school meals by completing and submitting a school meal application or alternative income form by Aug. 31, 2024, or they will not receive SUN Bucks benefits for summer 2024. Families can obtain the correct free or reduced-price school meal application from their school or school administrator’s office.

Due to the large number of automatically enrolled children – approximately five million – issuances will occur in two stages.

Stage 1: Automatically enrolled children will begin receiving their cards mid-June through August. Cards will be mailed in alphabetical order by the child’s last name.

Stage 2: Children determined eligible for free or reduced-price school meals during the summer will begin receiving their cards in late August and through fall 2024. This also includes children determined newly eligible for CalWORKs, CalFresh, or Medi-Cal.

To support card holders, the SUN Bucks helpline is available at 877-328-9677. The helpline provides automated support 24 hours a day, seven days per week. Live agents are available Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Anyone with general SUN Bucks questions are encouraged visit the CDSS webpage for information. The helpline provides card holders support if they have questions about their specific SUN Bucks card.

Receiving SUN Bucks will have no bearing on eligibility for CalFresh or any other public benefit program. Regardless of when a card is mailed or received, every SUN Bucks card will be loaded with the full $120 per child. Per federal rules, funds must be used within 122 days of the funds being loaded to the card. Any unused funds on the card will expire after 122 days. Expired benefits cannot be replaced.

California has a long-standing commitment to fighting hunger. The CDSS supports delivery of CalFresh food benefits to families in need, Disaster CalFresh benefits for victims of natural disasters, emergency food resources to local communities, and other nutrition services to ensure the health and well-being of all Californians. The Department also supported the delivery of Pandemic EBT and CalFresh Emergency Allotments to help meet nutrition needs during the pandemic.