We are pleased to support the bipartisan Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act of 2015, introduced by Senators John Boozman (R-AR), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Joe Donnelly (D-IN). This bill would make meaningful strides toward closing the summer child hunger gap by providing children living in communities currently underserved by the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) with nutritious meals during the summer.
The summer months are the hungriest time of year for low-income children. Currently, only 18 percent of children who receive free or reduced price meals during the school year are participating in SFSP. This isn’t good enough and we must do more to make sure low-income children are receiving the fuel they need to grow and thrive.
The summer meals program was designed to ensure low-income children have access to meals when school is out, but the program only reaches a fraction of eligible kids. Across the country, one-third of all low-income children live in communities not eligible to operate open summer meals sites. For millions of other children, the barriers they face reaching summer feeding sites are insurmountable - lack of transportation, high crime areas, streets that are too dangerous for children to cross alone. In rural communities, where kids are dispersed over large distances, these barriers are particularly acute.
The Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act of 2015 would strengthen SFSP and complement current summer feeding sites by providing states with new program models to reach unserved children, such as summer EBT or allowing off-site consumption of meals. These options would be available in communities that do not qualify for open congregate feeding sites and certain others that face barriers operating a site. Summer EBT and non-congregate models have proven to be highly effective in reaching kids in hard to serve areas. Recent summer EBT demonstrations showed a more than 30 percent reduction in child hunger and non-congregate feeding demonstrations, including backpack meal programs and meal delivery options, reached children in rural and hard-to-reach communities who otherwise could not access a site. When fully implemented, this bill could reach as many as 6.5 million low-income children.
The Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act of 2015 will ensure that no matter where our children live, they will have access to the nutrition they need to grow and thrive during the summer months. We urge Congress to make investing in closing the summer gap a top priority this year and include this bill as part of Child Nutrition Reauthorization.