A bipartisan group of senators are leading the charge to make federal child nutrition programs more efficient, flexible and better equipped to reach children in need during the summer months.
Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) --along with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and John Hoeven (R-ND)--introduced the Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act of 2019 to add flexibility to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which offers children from low-income families free lunch and snacks in the summer. The bill gives states additional options to reach hungry children in communities without a centralized feeding site during the summer.
Currently, children must travel to a central location and eat their meals together. This works well in some communities. However, in rural areas, it can be difficult for children to reach a site, if a site even exists. In suburban and urban areas, inclement weather or violence can keep children from these sites and cause them to miss a meal.
The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act of 2019 proposes two alternative options states can utilize through the program. The first would allow for meals to be consumed off-site through innovative means like mobile feeding programs and backpack meal programs. The other option would authorize the summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program which would provide eligible families $30 per summer month per child, with a maximum of $100 per child per year, to purchase eligible food items from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) approved retailers. In USDA pilot programs, summer EBT was shown to reduce child hunger by over 30 percent.
"Summer meals currently reach less than 20 percent of children who participate in similar programs during the school year. The one-size-fits-all approach is not working. We need a summer meals program that works for all areas--urban, suburban and rural. Our bill aims to achieve this by giving states the flexibility to choose what makes the most sense in their communities to alleviate summertime hunger for children," Boozman said.
"Too many children who rely on school meals during the school year go hungry during the summer. The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act would help alleviate summer hunger by expanding access to summer EBT cards through SNAP, and by providing flexibility to allow children to take meals home where a summer program is not an option. Our children are the future. In the richest nation in the world, we can and must ensure that children have the food they need to learn and thrive. This bill is an important step in that direction," Leahy said.
"The summer months should be an opportunity for children to play and learn outside of the classroom. It shouldn't be a time where they struggle to find their next meal," McConnell said. "The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act would give food banks and other organizations the flexibility they need to reach more kids when they're not in school. Sadly, one in five Kentucky children experience food insecurity, which can lead to lifelong health and developmental issues. Our Commonwealth's diverse regions and communities require a workable program that helps reach more children, not a one-size-fits-all federal standard. I applaud Senators Boozman and Leahy for their leadership on this important issue, and I'm proud to cosponsor this bipartisan legislation to help ensure that all kids, especially those in rural communities, have year-round access to nutritious meals."
"As a former school superintendent, I've seen firsthand the effect an empty stomach can have on a kid's ability to learn and succeed in school. While child hunger is a problem year round, it is especially prominent in the summer months when children are unable to access meals at school," Bennet said. "Our bill creates more flexibility in the summer meals program so we can increase access to fresh, healthy food, helping to reduce childhood hunger and ensure children return to school ready to learn."
"Many children count on USDA nutrition programs during the school year, and that need doesn't stop during summer vacation months. Rural states like Mississippi could use the greater flexibility offered by this legislation to reach eligible children who can't get to Summer Food Service Program sites," Hyde-Smith said.
"Ohio children should have access to nutritious meals all year-round, not just during the school year," Brown said. "This bill would ensure children in communities across Ohio have access to healthy meals, and help ensure no child goes hungry during the summer months."
"This bipartisan legislation provides states with much-needed flexibility in administering child nutrition programs during the summer months," Hoeven said. "This will better ensure that children in need have access to summer meals regardless of their zip code."
The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act of 2019 has the support of leading national advocacy groups including Feeding America, Share Our Strength, Alliance to End Hunger, Bread for the World, United Way Worldwide, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, First Focus Campaign for Children and the Congressional Hunger Center.