Republican Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and New York Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, have introduced legislation to expand summer meal programs across the country to ensure children maintain access to nutritious meals when school is out.
The Covid-19 pandemic, and subsequent switch to remote learning, exacerbated the challenges that food insecure students face when schools are closed. The Summer Meals Act would improve the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program, which provides low-income children — who would normally receive free or reduced lunch during the school year — with nutritious meals during the summer, after school, and when school is closed for vacations or emergencies.
The bill will also expand eligibility and participation for summer meal programs, facilitate program administration, and improve access to these critical programs in hard to reach areas, including rural and underserved communities. Gillibrand and Murkowski are calling for the inclusion of the Summer Meals Act in the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization currently being negotiated by the Senate Agriculture Committee.
“Learning disruptions caused by the pandemic have deepened the hunger crisis for vulnerable children who rely on school meals to keep from going hungry. When schools are out for the summer, we must guarantee that food insecure students maintain access to nutritious food,” Gillibrand said. “This legislation will provide more children with a reliable source of meals when schools are closed and deliver critical resources to help schools and nonprofits to administer these programs. With summer quickly approaching, I urge my colleagues to join Senator Murkowski and I to pass this important legislation so that every student has the opportunity to grow healthy and strong.”
“Far too many children in Alaska and across the country go hungry each and every day. Meals served at school and in afterschool or summer programs are sometimes the only meals they can rely on,” added Murkowski. “We need to make it easier for schools and non-profits to feed children when schools are not in session—regardless of whether it’s summer vacation, a natural disaster, or a pandemic that keeps kids out of school. Put simply, our bill will reduce barriers that prevent hungry kids from being fed. I look forward to working with Senator Gillibrand and my Senate colleagues to include the Summer Meals Act in the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.”
According to Feeding America, 22 million kids rely on the National School Lunch Program for free and reduced-price meals. However, during summer vacations and when school is closed for emergencies, many students lose access to daily, healthy meals. Currently, less than 4 million students receive meals from the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program.
Gillibrand and Murkowski’s Summer Meals Act would help close the gap for the 18 million children who risk going hungry when school is out. The legislation would allow more children to have access to summer meals, and expand flexibility for schools and students to participate in the program.
Specifically, the Summer Meals Act would:
• Help more children access healthy food by lowering the threshold to allow areas with 40 percent or more of students receiving free or reduced lunch to be eligible for the program, rather than the current threshold of 50 percent.
• Reduce the paperwork burden for meal program sponsors who want to participate in the program.
• Improve nutrition in rural, underserved, and hard to reach areas by providing transportation grants for underserved areas to get children to summer meal sites and by promoting innovative ways to increase children’s access to summer meals, such as through mobile meal trucks.
• Offer sites the option of serving two meals and a snack or three meals to children who attend evening enrichment programs during the school year and summer months.
• Allow Summer Nutrition Program providers to serve food to children after emergencies or disasters and be reimbursed if the meals are taken off site.