Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation
Hunger doesn’t take a vacation … So says the title of a 2015 report by the Food Research and Action Council (FRAC) on the status of the federal Summer Nutrition Program. How jarring it is to link the joys of a carefree summer with the sobering realization that during this time, thousands of children who otherwise receive meals through the school breakfast and lunch programs will go hungry.
Over 1.5 million students in New York participate in the school lunch program and almost 650,000 in school breakfast. That’s a lot of children who rely on school meal programs for a good portion of their daily nutrition. The Summer Nutrition Program is designed to replace the school meal programs at sites that also provide enrichment activities, educational programs and opportunities for physical activity. The sites are safe places for children and provide some child care for working poor families.
According to an analysis done by FRAC, New York ranked 3rd in the nation in the percentage of children enrolled in school meal programs who were reached by a summer food site. This is a tremendous accomplishment and a testament to the commitment of state agencies, advocacy organizations and summer food sites. Still, more than 68% of eligible children do not receive summer meals – more than 2 out of 3. That means a large number of New York children will have no access to nutrition programs for nearly three months this summer.
Hunger Solutions New York has created resources to assist programs and families identify summer food sites and promote local sites. The New York State Library Association has been a tremendous partner in this work, opening up the way for many of the state’s libraries to be resources for healthy meals and healthy minds.
Even while all this good work is going on, a Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill (H.R. 5003) introduced last month in the U.S. House of Representatives’ Education and Workforce Committee would roll back years of progress in food programs including by reducing the threshold for eligibility in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a hugely successful program that allows high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students. This change would increase administrative burdens on schools and decrease the rate of participation in lunch and breakfast programs. According to analysis by Hunger Solutions New York, over 400 schools already implementing this option would be forced out of the program under H.R. 5003 and almost 800 schools would lose the ability to apply. Advocates are urging substantial amendments to H.R. 5003, including, but not limited to, amendments to include an additional snack for children in child care for long hours. The bill also fails to address shortfalls in the Summer Nutrition Program. Learn more about this deeply flawed legislation and what actions you can take by following us (@SchuylerCenter) and Hunger Solutions New York (@NewYorkHunger) on Twitter.
Addressing childhood hunger is critical to ensure that all children are healthy and ready to learn. Children without adequate food or in food insecure homes suffer the consequences of poor health, developmental and behavioral problems and learning difficulties. Programs connecting families to nutritious food provide benefits to both children and parents in the short- and long-term.
As important as food programs are to families, the real solution is to improve economic security by reducing poverty. Economic policies that allow working families a livable wage is the permanent solution. In the meantime, supporting nutrition programs at the State and Federal levels remains essential to ensuring that all children have enough nutritious food to eat year round so they have the opportunity to thrive.