The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act: A Step towards Ending Summer Hunger

Since one in five American kids live in poverty, one in in five American kids struggle to find access to quality, nutritious meals. Children living in these devastating conditions face serious health and development problems. What’s more, food insecurity can curtail a child’s chance for academic success. Federal programs, such as SNAP, WIC, and the National School Breakfast and Lunch program help children receive the nutrition they need to succeed in school and later in life. During the summer months, however, low-income children lose access to one of the crucial tools they need to fight hunger. No school translates into no school breakfast and lunch, and low income children are often left in empty homes with empty stomachs. These factors contribute to summer learning loss, which widen the achievement gap.

In 1968, the United States Department of Agriculture responded to this problem by starting the Summer Food Service Program. This program works to make sure children continue to receive access to nutritious meals while on summer vacation. Over the years, millions of children have benefitted. But millions more have been left hungry. During the 2013-2014 school year, approximately twenty one million children received free or reduced price lunches, but roughly two million participated in the Summer Food Service Program. This devastating gap speaks to some of the flaws in the program.

For example, many children do not have transportation to and from the summer feeding sites. What’s more, there has been a decrease in the number of schools participating in this program, due to cuts in state and local budgets. Schools have the infrastructure needed for the program to run effectively. Churches and community organizations can become summer feeding sites. These organizations, however, usually do not have sufficient manpower or facilities.

In light of these problems, the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act seeks new ways to increase low-income children’s access to summer meals. One innovative aspect is the summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system. Under this system, families with children certified for free or reduced-price school meals would receive an EBT card to purchase food in the summer. This program would not close down the existing summer feeding sites. It would serve as another resource low income families could use to fight child summer hunger. President Obama also recognized how this program could assure and strengthen low-income children’s access to quality nutrition. His 2017 budget proposes an investment of twelve billion dollars over the course of ten years to create a permanent Summer EBT for Children Program.

It is crucial that children living in food insecure homes have year-round access to nutritious meals. Without it, they will not be able to live up to their potential. Congress now has two ways to ensure low-income children can receive the quality nutrition they need. Summer 2016 is almost here, and America’s children need your help. Call your local Member of Congress and tell them to vote to end child summer hunger!