Albany, NY – Standing at Albany School of the Humanities, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Paul Tonko said they will fight to protect healthier food standards and programs for schools as Congress prepares to debate child nutrition standards. Gillibrand and Tonko also announced bipartisan legislation to provide more children with nutritious meals throughout the summer.
The 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 currently debating 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 is also pushing to expand purchases from local food producers, particularly fresh fruit and vegetable growers and suppliers, to provide nutritious school meals and also raise students’ awareness of local agriculture.
“As we 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.”
“Access to quality food fuels young minds as well as bodies, and helps our kids to live healthy and successful lives,” said Representative Paul Tonko. “I thank Senator Gillibrand for her commitment to this issue — which is rarely in our national discussion — both in the Capital Region and statewide.”
“Childhood hunger and the need for good nutrition do not go on vacation during the summer months,” said Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan. “Senator Gillibrand’s Summer Meals Act of 2015 makes nutritious summer meals available to children who need them most, and not just for those attending summer school, but in our parks, community centers and summer enrichment programs throughout the City. This makes all our children healthier and better prepared to learn—a goal that is truly bipartisan.”
“An empty stomach can keep kids from learning, and that’s why it’s so important for schools to be able to provide healthy meals and snacks during the school year and over the summer,” said City School District of Albany Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, Ph.D. “We’re able to feed all of our children virtually year-round thanks to support from this critical federal legislation, and we welcome Sen. Gillibrand’s strong advocacy on behalf of our students, our families and our community.”
“The Healthy-Hunger Free Kids Act allows us to help all of our students to be just that — healthy, happy kids,” said Lisa Finkenbinder, school lunch director for the City School District of Albany. “The nutritional standards that are set forth help us provide children with a solid starting point in what we hope will be a lifetime of good choices about the foods they eat and the ways in which they maintain active, healthy lifestyles. Reauthorization of the Healthy-Hunger Free Kids Act will allow our school district to continue to provide all of our children and families with this critical support that so many need.”
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 73,669 students in the Capital Region who ate a free or reduced priced school lunch, but over the summer only 11,154 children participated in the summer lunch program. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would expand eligibility to at least an additional 6,089 students attending more than 31 schools in the region. In Albany County there were 19,157 students receiving lunch but only 3,597 children participating in the summer lunch program. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would expand eligibility to at least an additional 1081 students attending 6 schools in Albany County.
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.