Ithaca, NY – Standing in the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School cafeteria, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said she will fight to protect healthier food standards and programs for schools as Congress prepares to debate child nutrition standards. Gillibrand also announced bipartisan legislation to provide more children with nutritious meals throughout the summer.
Gillibrand’s proposed legislation would give more children access to healthy summer meals by expanding the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Summer Food Service Program. The legislation would help improve nutrition and enhance learning in underserved areas by better integrating summer education and meals programs, making it easier for public-private partner organizations to participate in the summer meals program, and by providing the option of a third meal for children who attend evening enrichment programs.
“For many children the only meals they eat are provided at school, and that means some children go hungry over summer break,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, first New York Senator to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years. “This bipartisan legislation would give more children access to quality meals when school is out for the summer by strengthening the USDA summer nutrition program. No child should have to go without a healthy meal.”
Congress is expected to debate child nutrition standards and school meals as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) is set to expire in September that were a landmark achievement for improving what cafeterias serve children. Under the law, in order for school meals to be eligible for federal reimbursement, one of the main requirements is that they must contain at least ½ cup serving of fresh fruit and vegetables. The authorization for USDA’s core child nutrition programs: the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Summer Food Service Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program is also set to expire in September and must be renewed this year. Gillibrand will also be pushing to expand the procurement of local foods, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables, which increases the nutritional content of school meals and raises children’s awareness of local agriculture.
“As we prepare to debate child nutrition standards, we need to make serving healthy food at our schools is a priority,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “Fresh fruits’ and vegetables’ place on the lunch tray should not be replaced with French fries and onion rings. Parents should be able to rely on school as a place where their kids get served a healthy meal. By preserving nutrition programs and standards at school, we are not only ensuring our kids are eating nutritious food, we are also expanding opportunities for our local farmers.”
Audrey Baker, Director, Wood’s Earth said, “Farm to school programs like Wood’s Earth address intersecting societal issues, including long-term health, economic resilience, and the environment. In Ithaca, we’re integrating farm to school programs in classrooms, cafeterias and communities through collaborative partnerships with the school district, non-profits, and farms to give our kids the tools for a strong future. We are thankful for Senator Gillibrand’s support and leadership in this vital program.”
Natasha Thompson, President & CEO, Food Bank of the Southern Tier said, “The Food Bank of the Southern Tier is grateful to Senator Gillibrand for her leadership on the issue of child hunger. We know that children are our future and it is our responsibility as a society to ensure that they have access to every resource necessary for success including healthy, nutritious food.”
Across the country, 31 million students participate in the national school lunch program, and 22 million students receive free or reduced school lunch – meaning their families lives at or near the poverty line – but only one in seven of these high need children have access to summer meals. In New York, there are more than 1.7 million children who receive free or reduced school lunch, but only 27 percent have access to summer meals.
On a typical school day, there were over 28,000 students in the Southern Tier who ate a free or reduced priced school lunch, but over the summer only 5,600 children participated in the summer lunch program. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would expand eligibility to at least an additional 7,800 students attending more than 39 schools in the region. In Tompkins County there were 3,100 students receiving lunch but only 700 children participating in the summer lunch program. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would expand eligibility to at least an additional 700 students attending 5 schools in the region.
The Summer Meals Act:
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. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would expand eligibility to 3.2 million children.
This legislation would also reduce the paperwork burden for meal program sponsors who want to participate in the program, provide children with transportation to the summer meals sites, and would also offer the option of an additional meal to children who attend evening programs.
The USDA Summer Food Service Program provides low-income children under age 18, who would normally receive free or reduced school lunch, with quality, nutritious food during the summer. Several programs run in tandem with educational enrichment programs to keep children engaged and safe during the summer months. Currently, there are more than 50 national organizations that have endorsed the Summer Meals Act legislation.
Child Nutrition Standards Set To Expire
The most recent Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) process concluded when the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) was signed into law on December 13, 2010. The HHFKA made substantial improvements to Child Nutrition by:
- Increasing reimbursement rates paid for school meals by $0.06;
- Updating school nutrition standards and standards for all food sold in competition with school lunches such as food sold in vending machines;
- Encouraging farm-to-school initiatives and other obesity reducing programs;
· Introducing new physical activity standards;
- Expanding support for food service programs to include summer programs, afterschool, and outside of school programs;
- Establishing new guidelines for school food safety;
The HHFKA and its child nutrition standards are set to expire on September 30, 2015. As Congress begins to debate renewing these programs Senator Gillibrand will be advocating for the following priorities:
- Give more children healthy summer meals by expanding access to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Summer Food Service Program.
· Reduce red tape and make it easier for existing after school meal providers to sponsor Summer Meal programs.
· Strengthen the ties between farmers, producers, and meal service providers by bolstering Farm-to-School programs.
· Preserve existing nutrition standards including the requirement of fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
· Help school nutrition professionals meet their professional standard requirements, support peer mentorship programs, and provide grants for improved kitchen equipment that enable the preparation of healthy, appetizing meals that children will truly enjoy.
- Improve student participation rates in the School Breakfast Program.