Press Release

Gillibrand, Meng, Katz & Hunger Advocates Lead Fight Against New Efforts To Weaken School Nutrition Standards, Ensure Students Get Fresh Fruit & Vegetables, Summer Meals

Aug 10, 2015

Queens, NY – Standing at I.S. 5 The Walter Crowley Intermediate School, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congresswoman Grace Meng with Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery and hunger advocates visited with children and discussed the fight against the latest efforts to weaken school nutrition standards, as well as the push to ensure students get fresh fruit and vegetables at school. Gillibrand also announced bipartisan legislation to provide more children with nutritious meals throughout the summer.

Congress will debate child nutrition standards and school meals this fall, as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is set to expire. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was 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.

Gillibrand is also proposing legislation that would give more children access to healthy summer meals by expanding the 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.

“As we debate child nutrition standards, we need to make access and serving healthy food at our schools a priority,” said Senator Gillibrand, the first New York Senator to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years. “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. In addition, the Summer Meals Act 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.” 

“As a mother of two young boys who attend public school in Queens and as Founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Kids Safety Caucus, I know first-hand how important the fight for accessible and proper nutrition is,” said Congresswoman Meng. “As lawmakers, it is our duty to ensure that these programs are renewed and enhanced so that children do not suffer at the hands of bureaucratic barriers. No child in Queens or anywhere in America should go hungry, and the food they eat should be chocked full of nutrients; ingredients they need to fuel their pursuit of the American dream. School may be out for the summer, but access to nutritional meals should not have a break too.”

“It is important to ensure our kids have access year-round to quality, nutritious foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. “Healthy eating habits are best instilled early in life. Thanks to Senator Gillibrand’s leadership, millions of families will be able to count on the continuation of strong federal nutrition programs for our kids.”

“The de Blasio administration is committed to raising student achievement through a range of initiatives to better meet the needs of its 1.1 million students and their families, starting with Pre-K for All and by expanding our Community Schools that offer mental health, physical well-being, or other vital supports to better support the social, emotional and physical needs of students,” said Deputy Mayor Richard Buery. “We’ve also driven a significant expansion of school nutrition programs and we need Congress to stand with us. We must expand programs that help schools provide fresh fruits and vegetables for our children and we thank Senator Gillibrand for her efforts to expand funding for child nutrition programs.”

“Our free summer meals program provides every child in the city the chance to eat healthy, nutritious food every day and that is critical for their development,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “By offering meals free of charge at accessible locations throughout the five boroughs, we are meeting families where they are and helping children continue good habits over the summer. I want to thank Senator Gillibrand for her leadership on this important issue and on behalf of our 1.1 million students I would welcome the expansion of this vital program.”

“On behalf of the families who rely on Food Bank For New York City’s citywide network of nearly 1,000 food pantries, soup kitchens, community-based organizations and schools, I am so pleased to join Senator Gillibrand and support the bipartisan Summer Meals Act,” said Margarette Purvis, President and CEO of Food Bank For New York City. “This legislation is essential to breaking down barriers such as paperwork burdens and transportation issues so that more children have access to free, nutritious meals during the summer months. In New York City, one in every five children rely on emergency food providers. This legislation would go a long way towards helping families ensure that their children have regular access to nutritious meals.”

“We started Wellness in the Schools (WITS) 10 years ago because as parents, educators, and chefs we saw firsthand the negative effects of unhealthy food and sedentary recess periods on our children’s ability to learn,” said Nancy Easton, Founder & Executive Director, Wellness in the Schools. “Today, thanks to legislation supported by elected leaders like Senator Gillibrand, we see the tide turning against childhood obesity for the first time in decades. WITS stands with the Senator in advocating for a strong CNR, one that doesn’t roll back progress, but keeps us moving forward to healthier communities, healthier schools, and healthier children.”

“City Harvest commends Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for supporting strong federal legislation that ensures our children will have fresh fruits and vegetables on every tray, every day and that expands meal access for hungry children during the summer months,” said Jilly Stephens, Executive Director, City Harvest.  “By working together, we can help feed New York City’s – and the nation’s – children all year-round.”

“For children to learn — in the summer and throughout the year — they need proper nutrition. To be schooled, you must be fueled. To be well-fed, you must be well read,” said Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. “That’s why we are so gratified that Senator Gillibrand is one of the top national leaders in the fight to ensure a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill.”

Child Nutrition Standards Set To Expire

The most recent Child Nutrition Reauthorization 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 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.

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.

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.

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.