SUN Bucks Program to Help Kids Access Food During Summer Break

Eligible families to receive $120 per child to ease summer grocery bills

AUGUSTA – The Maine Department of Health and Human Services' (DHHS) Office for Family Independence (OFI) today announced SUN Bucks, a program to help eligible families access food for their children during the summer months. SUN Bucks provides families with a one-time benefit of $120 for each eligible school-aged child to supplement the summer grocery budget until classes and regular school meals resume in the fall.

The new federal program supplements free meals that kids of all ages can access at summer meal sites in their communities. SUN Bucks can be used to buy groceries everywhere that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are accepted, including grocery stores and farmers markets, to purchase healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, meats and other protein sources, whole grains, and dairy. Research shows that providing families with summer grocery benefits reduces child hunger and supports healthier diets.

SUN Bucks, also known as the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program, is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and permanently replaces the Pandemic EBT program that began in 2020 to help families in response to the COVID pandemic. In Maine, nearly 100,000 children are eligible for the SUN Bucks benefit, which will be available to families by the end of June 2024.

“Maine’s Office for Family Independence is proud to introduce this Federal program to support children across Maine when they don’t have access to regular school meals.” said OFI Director Ian Yaffe. “Most families will receive SUN Bucks benefits without having to take any action because they are already enrolled in OFI programs or through our close partnership with the Maine Department of Education.”

“School is almost out for the summer which means Maine kids will lose access to school breakfast and lunch,” said Anna Korsen, Policy and Program Director for Full Plates Full Potential. “Thankfully, SUN Bucks will be available to fill the gap and bolster families' grocery budgets. Alongside free summer meals, SUN Bucks is a critical tool to increase food security during the summer months. Maine is again leading the nation as one of the 37 states implementing this new program.”

“SUN Bucks plays a critical role in ensuring access to nutritious food for children when school is not in session,” said Heather Paquette, president of Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine." Childhood hunger remains a concern for our state, as one in five children in Maine experienced food insecurity in 2022. We are grateful for initiatives that help bridge the gap and support the health and development of Maine’s next generation."

“We applaud the state for taking the opportunity to provide more nutrition support to kids over the summer–a time when many families with lower income struggle to put enough food on the table,” said Alex Carter, Policy Advocate at Maine Equal Justice. “Thanks to streamlined certification, more Maine kids will also be automatically eligible for SUN Bucks without having to re-apply and duplicate their information, overcoming one of the biggest barriers to access.”

Who can enroll

Most families will receive SUN Bucks automatically if they already receive other benefits, but some families may need to apply.

  • Families with a school-aged child/children who are already participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), are experiencing homelessness, part of migrant families, or receiving MaineCare with a verified annual income under 185% of the federal poverty level will be automatically enrolled in the SUN Bucks.
  • Families not automatically enrolled but who believe their children are eligible can apply for SUN Bucks beginning June 1, 2024. Applications must be received by August 15 to qualify.
  • OFI is mailing notification letters to eligible households this week.

How eligible families will receive SUN Bucks

  • For households currently enrolled in SNAP, benefits will be automatically uploaded to their existing EBT card, known as the Pine Tree card.
  • Children who were previously recipients of P-EBT and are not enrolled in SNAP will receive their benefits on their existing P-EBT card. Households that did not keep their P-EBT card may need to request a replacement card to access these benefits.
  • Children eligible for SUN Bucks, not enrolled in SNAP and who have never been enrolled in P-EBT will receive a Pine Tree card with their benefit.

Cards must be activated within 45 days of receipt. Unused benefits will be removed from the card 122 days after issuance, regardless of spending activity.