Summer is supposed to be a fun time, but sadly it means hunger for millions of children in the United States.
Most impoverished children lose the nutritious free school lunch during the summer months, according to a new report by the Food Research and Action Center. Only 15 for every 100 low-income children who benefit from the National School Lunch Program are taking part in summer meals programs.
This is a child hunger crisis that Congress must take action on. We need a National Summer Feeding Act that would close this terrible hunger gap.
The free or reduced priced school lunch has been a major cornerstone of fighting child hunger in our country for decades. Over 20 million needy children in America get these meals during the school year.
But when June rolls around school ends. But hunger does not during the summer. There are summer feeding sites set up, but there are not nearly enough across the country.
The Cincinnati Public School system operates summer feeding sites. CPS serves about 5,000 meals a day to children on a typical summer feeding day. During the school year, they serve about 50,000 meals a day. Jessica Shelly, the CPS food services director, says “That 90 percent drop in meals served is heart wrenching.” Shelly says they need more places willing to host summer feeding sites.
Lack of summer feeding sites is a major reason we have so few children getting summer lunches. A National Summer Feeding Act should seek to expand the coverage of feeding locations.
While opening more sites will help, the best solution lies in a plan that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been testing for the past several years.
A little card is given to needy families that allows them to purchase extra groceries during the summer months. It’s called the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) for Children program. They can use this to purchase food for children to make up for the loss of the school lunch.
The EBT card is either 30 or 60 dollars a month for families with children who were in the National School Lunch program.
In Virginia, one of the EBT test areas, Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) praised the program, calling it an essential part of rebuilding the state’s economy by “providing all of our students with the resources they need to succeed — including access to nutritious meals.”
Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples explains, “it is often difficult for families to travel to feeding sites due to lack of transportation or distance in rural areas. EBT benefits provide an efficient means for eligible children and families to increase their food security during the summer months.”
There appears to be bipartisan support for summer feeding. The Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act, supported by Democrats and Republicans, would have expanded EBT coverage nationwide. The bill unfortunately did not pass as part of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which stalled in Congress.
But we should try again. Robert Campbell of Feeding America says they hope to get summer EBT written into law and permanently funded.
President Obama proposed funding for a national summer EBT program last year. Both Obama and President Trump have supported funding for the pilot EBT projects.
A USDA report says, “Nationwide expansion of Summer EBT would result in hundreds of thousands of children being spared from food insecurity over the next decade. It is expected to most benefit low-income children in populations that have difficulty accessing existing summer meal programs and that have historically shown low participation in summer meals.”
As a nation, America should do everything in its power to eliminate hunger. It would make the country so much stronger with healthy and nourished children.
A National Summer Feeding Act, supporting expansion of sites and the EBT card initiative, would be a major achievement on the road to eliminating child hunger in America. This is a plan that all Americans can support.