This week, NC Governor Roy Cooper and Administrator of US Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services Cindy Long got together to launch the state’s new SUN Bucks program – the latest state-offered food assistance program designed to help prevent child hunger in North Carolina.

The state is partnering with six philanthropic companies and organizations that are helping support the SUN Bucks initiative and joining ranks with the NC Department of Health and Human Services and the NC Department of Public Instruction.

The Rhino Times has an inquiry in to the state regarding why the program is called “SUN Bucks,” but two people contacted at the NC Department of Health and Human Services said they had no idea. One guess might be because there’s a lot of sun in the summertime and people like to capitalize parts of the names of programs these days.

[Note: As the Rhino Times went to press an email from the state said that SUN stands for “Summer Nutrition Program –though it seems like that would be “SUP”]

Through the program, the state will receive roughly $120 million in federal funds to feed more than a million school children over the summer. Those concerned about child hunger in the state worry especially about the summer months since, when school is in session, there’s more oversight of child hunger issues.

“Summer can be a hard time for children who rely on our public schools for a healthy school breakfast and lunch,” Cooper stated in a press release this week. “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.”

The first benefits from the SUN Bucks program will be issued to eligible families next week.

North Carolina is one of only a few states in the Southeast 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 while school is out for summer.

The program is being 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.

Families will receive a one-time payment of $120 per eligible child to purchase food during the summer.

According to state health officials, nearly 60 percent of public school students in North Carolina qualify for free and reduced-price meals at school.

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 Food and Nutrition benefits will see their SUN Bucks benefits loaded onto their existing EBT card. All other families with eligible children will receive an SUN Bucks card in the mail.

For children who don’t automatically qualify but might be eligible, health officials will send an email and text message to families with instructions on how to apply. Applications will be accepted through August 31, 2024 for this year’s summer period.

If you want more information on the program, you can visit the NC SUN Bucks website or call a SUN Bucks customer representative by dialing 1-866-719-0141.