As we counted down the last days of the school year, most of us were excited planning our summer vacations and camps. At the same time, too many kids were wondering how they were going to eat over the summer – something most of us take for granted.
During 2013, more than 737,000 students were eligible for free or reduced price meals at school but only a small portion of these students are fed through Summer Nutrition Programs, leaving them at risk of going hungry.
According to the most recent Food Research & Action Center report, “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report,” the number of children getting meals over the summer has increased, yet only 16 of every 100 low-income children in the country was served.
The federal Summer Nutrition Programs help ensure that children who rely on school breakfast and lunch during the school year continue to have access to meals over the summer. These meal programs, including the Summer Food Service Program and National School Lunch Program, are housed at schools and nonprofits, such as food banks and community action agencies, and are often coupled with recreation activities for students during the day while parents are working.
Like 42 other states, Michigan saw an increase of nearly 12% from 2013 to 2014 in the number of children receiving meals through the Summer Nutrition Programs. However, the state continues to rank in the bottom half of states at 31st. Last July, in Michigan about 13 of every 100 low-income children were served through a summer meal program. FRAC suggests that every state should aim to have about 40 children participating for every 100 receiving free or reduced-price lunch during the school year. Based on that goal it is estimated that Michigan forgoes about $11.5 million in federal reimbursement for Summer Nutrition Programs.
Congress is scheduled to reauthorize child nutrition programs in the fall, and the report offers several recommendations to ensure that more children are returning to school in the fall healthy and ready to learn:
- Lowering the eligibility test to increase the number of participating sites. Currently, most participating sites qualify by demonstrating that they are located in an area where 50% of the kids are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. The report advocates for lowering the threshold to 40% to capture more rural areas.
- Streamlining administrative requirements to allow nonprofit and local government agencies to provide meals year-round rather than having to operate two child nutrition programs, which have duplicative requirements. Schools already are allowed to do this through the National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option.
- Allowing agencies to provide three meals a day instead of two to help serve children who are provided full-day care while their parents work and for teenagers who participate in evening activities.
- Providing grants for transportation—one of the most significant barriers to participation, especially in rural areas.
- Expanding access through the use of the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards, a concept that was tested through the USDA Summer Demonstration Projects. Michigan was fortunate to receive a grant for $5.5 million for this program, which is expected to serve 40,599 children this summer.
–Alicia Guevara Warren