Monticello, NY – Standing at the YMCA Camp in Thompson Town Park, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, joined by New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and Chef Andrew Yeomans announced the bipartisan Summer Meals Act, which would enhance 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 a third meal for children who attend evening enrichment programs.
“Many children receive their only meal at school during the year, and when school is out for the summer, they go hungry,” said Senator Gillibrand, first New York Senator to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years. “The bipartisan Summer Meals Act would help combat this problem by strengthening the USDA summer nutrition program to help more children across America access quality meals during the summer months. Every child who is hungry should have food year round.”
“Summer meals programs are more important than ever, especially in my District where food insecurity is an issue facing far too many children,” said New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther. “No child should ever go hungry, and the Summer Meals Act of 2014 is a welcome and necessary measure to ensure that every child has access to nutritious food during the summer months. I’m proud to stand with Senator Gillibrand and support passage of this critical legislation.”
“Senator Gillibrand’s attention to this issue and the development of this program will be such a welcome benefit for the children of Sullivan County, ” said Scott Samuelson, Chairman of the Sullivan County Legislature. “The County’s health ratings and poverty numbers make this area the perfect choice to begin to expand this program. We thank the Senator for her forward thinking and great compassion.”
“We are pleased to welcome Senator Gillibrand to the Town of Thompson,” said Thompson Town Supervisor William J. Rieber, Jr. “We commend the Senator on her initiative to ensure that our young children are provided with healthy and nutritious meals during the summer break. Our children are our future. No one should go hungry in this great country.”
“The Summer Food Service Program’s residual benefits not only provide meals when school is not in session, but it provides entire families a modicum of financial relief by leaving more grocery money available for wholesome foodstuffs currently experiencing significant cost increases,” said Chef Andrew Yeomans, Food Service Director of the Monticello Central School District. “This program’s residual benefits also include but are not limited to, targeting Federal dollars to areas experiencing significant numbers of low income families by closing the widening gap between food insecurity and food security, providing an alternative revenue stream to many school nutrition programs currently operating in a negative financial position thereby lessening the burden on local property taxpayers mandated to cover the balance. Further, as demonstrated by Monticello Central School District’s program, community organizations will utilize USDA’s SFSP as a “Draw” for participation, which pulls children from potential inactivity, or mischief, gives them organized activities to participate in, and fosters a healthier lifestyle through physical activity and the development of healthier eating habits.”
“When this school year ended, over 1.5 million low-income children throughout New York lost access to school meals, an increase of nearly 38,000 students from the previous school year who qualified for a free or reduced-price school meal,” said Linda Bopp, Executive Director of Hunger Solutions New York. “This bi-partisan bill will increase access to summer nutrition for low-income kids and teens while effectively addressing hunger and meeting increased need. It is in our best interest to ensure that these children have adequate nutrition during the summer so they stay healthy, active and return to school in the fall ready to learn.”
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 in March 2013, there were 17,676 students in Orange County who participated in the free or reduced priced school lunch program. In Sullivan County there were 4,072 students and in Ulster County there were 6,723 students. However, in July 2013, there were only 5,055 children in Orange County, 808 in Sullivan County, and 373 in Ulster County who participated in the summer lunch program.
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. Currently the bar is set at 50 percent. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would expand eligibility to an additional six Sullivan County school districts: Liberty, Fallsburg, Sullivan West, Eldred, Livingston Manor, and Monticello.
This legislation would also reduce the paperwork burden for private-public partnerships who want to participate in the program, provide children with transportation to the summer meals sites, and would also offer 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 45 national organizations that have endorsed the Summer Meals Act legislation.