SUMMER IS THE HUNGRIEST TIME OF THE YEAR
Many kids in America are excited for the last day of school, but for many low-income children, summer is a time filled with worry and anxiety about hunger.
During the school year, many families participate in federal nutrition programs like school breakfast, school lunch or afterschool meals. But when schools close for the summer, these programs are no longer available, and this puts a strain on family budgets. When kids don’t get the consistent nutrition they need, it has a long-term impact on their health, development and ability to learn. For example, studies show that hunger is linked to the “summer slide,” while nutritious meals protect against cognitive decline and summer learning loss.
Many families are forced to make difficult trade-offs between paying for groceries or paying rent and utility bills. This has long-term consequences for a child’s health, education and well-being
TOO MANY KIDS AREN’T GETTING THE SUMMER MEALS THEY NEED
Created in 1975, the federal Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) was designed to ensure that low-income children get the nutrition they need when school is not in session. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, administered by state agencies and hosted at thousands of local organizations like schools, churches and community centers, these meals are a lifeline for kids around the nation.
Too often, however, the traditional program, which requires kids get to and from a meal site every day, isn’t reaching most of the kids who need it. Of the 21 million low-income children participating in the National School Lunch Program, only 3.4 million are participating in the summer meal program, meaning sites are only reaching about 16% of potential need. The most common barriers children and families face in accessing summer meals can only be solved through legislation.
CURRENT PROGRAM BARRIERS
- Neighborhoods: Summer meals sites are open to all kids in the area of a school where 50% of the enrolled students qualify for free and reduced-price meals. But a difference of a few blocks could mean the difference between a child receiving a summer meal or not.
- Transportation: With school buses not operating and parents at work, many kids lack transportation to summer meal sites. Fuel costs and limiting public transportation, especially in rural communities, can also prevent kids from getting to a meal site.
- Safety: Sometimes, getting to a summer meal site may require children cross busy streets or walk through unsafe neighborhoods.
- Weather: Extreme heat, thunderstorms and other severe weather can close sites, many of which operate out of doors.
- Red Tape: Excessive administrative bureaucracy prevents many schools, faith-based organizations and community groups from providing meals to kids in need.
IT’S TIME TO UPDATE THE SUMMER FOOD SERVICE PROGRAM
There are better ways to reach kids with the meals they need. Congress can enact common sense policy solutions that could lead to a Summer Meals program that more effectively and efficiently reaches kids with nutrition during the summer months. Through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Process, lawmakers have the chance to update and improve the summer meals program so it better meets the needs of children from low income families, no matter where they live.