Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) 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 would 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,” said Senator Gillibrand. “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,” said Senator 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.”
“Every day across the country, youth-serving organizations like the Y provide healthy meals to children experiencing food insecurity. This is a pressing need in our communities, and we are committed to addressing it. But having to navigate two different federal programs to feed kids all year long makes our work harder. The Summer Meals Act would create welcome efficiencies for our year-round feeding programs and deliver other critical improvements, including expanding eligibility to help Ys feed more hungry kids in our communities and providing funding for transportation to get kids to programs where they can eat, learn and play,” said Kevin Washington, President and CEO, YMCA of the USA.
“Federal Summer Nutrition Programs have been vital for communities across the nation that face the increasingly critical reality of food insecurity,” said Jim Clark, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America. “The Summer Meals Act would help community organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs to provide young people the physical and emotional support they need to focus and succeed. We’re grateful for Senator Gillibrand’s continued leadership and dedication to the urgent issues facing America’s youth.”
“The need to expand the reach of the Summer Nutrition Programs is more important than ever as communities continue to respond to the impacts of COVID-19 on food security, education, and the economy,” said Luis Guardia, president, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). “The Summer Meals Act of 2021 will help address the alarming spike in childhood hunger by ensuring more children have access to the nutrition they need. FRAC commends the bill’s sponsors for their efforts to strengthen, protect, and expand access to the Summer Nutrition Programs through the Summer Meals Act of 2021. We strongly encourage Members of Congress to cosponsor this important bill.”
“Even before the pandemic, only one in three low-income children in New York State received meals through the Summer Food Service Program, far fewer than those who rely on free school lunch,” said Sherry Tomasky, Director of Public Affairs at Hunger Solutions New York. “The Summer Meals Act will increase access to nutritious meals when hunger is most severe for many children. This is a critical component of Child Nutrition Reauthorization and we enthusiastically thank Senator Gillibrand for her leadership on this important issue.”
“Summer can be a tough time for low-income children because they lose access to free and reduced-price school meals. Summer meal programs play an important role in closing the summer hunger gap, but we know this program is reaching only a portion of Alaskan kids in need,” said Jim Baldwin, Food Bank of Alaska CEO. “The Summer Meals Act would strengthen, streamline, and expand access to summer meals, particularly for the hard-to-reach, rural areas of our state. The flexibilities outlined in this bill are especially important given the challenges that the pandemic has placed on our efforts to feed kids.”
“Summer should be a time of outdoor exploration and hands-on learning, but for to many children summer is time of food insecurity. The impacts of childhood hungry last much longer than just the summer. Childhood malnutrition can lead to unhealthy body weight, the development of chronic health conditions such as diabetes, and prevents students from being ready to learn during the school year. The Summer Meals Act addresses these concerns by expanding community eligibility, improving nutrition in rural and hard to reach communities, and reduces administrative paperwork that prevents summer learning programs from participating. This legislation is especially needed now more than ever as families continue to struggle with the long-term financial impacts of COVID-19. The Summer Meals Act will allow summer camps, public libraries, tribal youth programs, schools, and community organizations to feed more kids have the nutrition they need to thrive,” said Thomas Azzarella, Director of the Alaska Afterschool Network.
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.
In addition to Gillibrand and Murkowski, the legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Angus King (I-ME), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
The legislation is supported by 500 national, state, and local endorsements including YMCA of the USA, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), Feeding America, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Education Association, Hunger Solutions New York, Food Bank of Alaska, Alaska Afterschool Network.
The full text of this legislation is available here.