Press Release

Gillibrand, Ortiz, Menchaca & Hunger Advocates Lead Fight Against New Efforts To Weaken School Nutrition Standards, Ensure Students Get Fresh Fruits & Vegetables, Summer Meals

Aug 11, 2015

Sunset Park, NY – Standing at Sunset Park Recreation Center, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand with New York State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, 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.” 

“I am proud to join Senator Gillibrand in calling on our government to strengthen nutrition programs for our children, especially in the summer months when they are out of school,” said New York State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz. “I applaud Senator Gillibrand for her leadership in introducing the bipartisan Summer Meals Act of 2015.  The bill aims to make sure more children can access summer meals when school is out. Among its positive features would be to allow programs like this one to offer three meals a day—so important with more and more parents juggling work and child care when school is out. More than 1,500 organizations nationwide have urged Congress to pass the Gillibrand bill—from the national group Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) to many organizations such as the Food Bank For NYC, the NYC Coalition Against Hunger, Hunger Solutions New York and many others here in New York. Making sure our kids have access to healthy food is an investment in our future.   Let’s make sure as a nation that our children get the nutritious fuel they need to grow and develop and succeed as productive students and future workers.”

“I want to thank Senator Gillibrand for her leadership in ensuring that young people—even here in Sunset Park—have access to fresh foods and vegetables and summer meals,” said Carlos Menchaca, New York City Council Member, District 38. “Her struggle in Washington to support working families and young people will undoubtedly be felt here in New York City. I am proud to be a partner in this cause, and to augment the call for healthy food options for our communities.”

“I applaud Senator Gillibrand’s long standing efforts on behalf of the children of all schools to ensure that they have access to healthy and nutritious meals, not only during the school year, but during the summer months as well,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, Diocese of Brooklyn. “It is essential that the Child Nutrition Reauthorization program, which requires that all children in all schools are provided fresh fruit and vegetables for their lunches, be continued past the sunset date of September 30th, 2015; and that the Summer Safety Meals Act be expanded to allow even more children to be provided with free or reduced cost lunches. Strong nutrition is a proven key to learning, and the Senator’s efforts will ensure the well being of many needy children throughout the Diocese of Brooklyn and elsewhere.”

“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.”

“School breakfast and lunch are sometimes the only meals many children eat over the course of a day, which can lead to hunger during the summer months when school is out of session,” said Jennifer Jones Austin, Chief Executive Officer at Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. “It’s imperative that we not only make meals available to children throughout the year, but that we ensure that these meals are nutritious so that our children are healthy and fully prepared to learn.”

“Children need year round access to sufficient healthy food, and too many low-income children go without, especially during the summer months,” said Sheena Wright, CEO & President, UWNYC. “Inconsistent nutrition compromises a child’s health, development and ability to learn.  As a City, we cannot afford to keep taking these risks. United Way of New York City applauds and supports Senator Gillibrand’s proposed legislation to make high-quality, nutritious foods, fresh fruits and vegetables accessible to children all year long.” 

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.