Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Lisa Murkowski today introduced 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.”
“A basic truth about too many vulnerable young Alaskans is that when school is out, their hunger doesn’t go on vacation For them, summer means the sound of a growling belly, not the sounds of play and laughter,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). “The Summer Food Service Program is meant to help schools and community groups feed hungry kids during the summer, but too many complicated federal rules and regulations prevent it from working as well as it could. I am proud to join in the effort to improve this important program, and I look forward to honing it further as it moves through the committee process and making it the most cost-effective, efficient legislation possible.”
Across the country, 31 million 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. In Alaska, only 11 percent of eligible kids receive summer meals.
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. 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 44 national organizations that have endorsed the Summer Meals Act legislation.