We Can Afford to Feed Every Child
Summer is approaching rapidly and most of our nation’s children are looking forward to free time and sun.
But summer can be a difficult time for low-income families. When kids who participate in free school lunch and school breakfast programs are on vacation from school, the cost of providing those 10 extra meals per week for each child adds up quickly. With grocery budgets already tight during the school year, summer poses a real dilemma.
Strengthen Child Nutrition Programs
In 2008—the last complete year for which we have data—nearly one in four children in the United States lived in families that could not always afford to put food on the table. Since the economy remained troubled throughout 2009, the situation is almost certainly worse now.
The fastest, most direct way to reduce childhood hunger is through national child nutrition programs—school lunch and breakfast, summer feeding programs, and the Women, Infants and Children program (WIC). But these programs are effective only when they reach the children who need help.
Congress is working on legislation that will renew child nutrition programs for the next five years. One of Bread for the World’s priorities is to ensure that the final version of the law strengthens and improves access to the programs. Eligible children who are not participating in these programs need help getting connected with them. To do the best job possible of feeding our nation’s babies, children, and teens, Congress needs to pass a bill that authorizes policies and funding to reach more eligible children.
More than 19 million children receive free or reduced-price school lunch. Of these, less than half (46 percent) receive school breakfast, and just 11 percent receive meals in the summer. So we currently have a “breakfast gap” of more than 10 million kids and a “summer gap” of more than 17 million kids.
For more on how to improve access to child nutrition programs—by enrolling more eligible children automatically, focusing on high-poverty areas, and closing the gap between participation in school lunch and other meals—see Bread’s February/March 2010 background paper, “Childhood Hunger: A Time to Act.”
In April 2010, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved a child nutrition reauthorization bill that includes $450 million per year in increased resources. This is less than half of the $1 billion requested by the administration. Moreover, the new money would go primarily to increase the reimbursements paid to schools for meals. School reimbursements, while needed, would do little to reach children who are not getting the nutrition assistance they qualify for.
Bread for the World continues to press for the full $1 billion increase requested by the administration. In May, Bread members mounted a successful effort asking their representatives to sign on to a letter, initiated by Reps. James McGovern (D-MA) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), supporting the full $1 billion request. Initially, 116 representatives had signed the letter. Bread for the World activists helped garner 221 signatures, including nine Republicans and 30 Blue Dog (fiscally conservative) Democrats.
As Bread goes to press, we anticipate that the House Education and Labor Committee will have a bill outline prepared before Memorial Day. Action is expected to follow after the recess. The significant support for the funding increase among House members shown in the McGovern/Emerson letter will be a big help in the upcoming House committee and floor action. Thank you to everyone who helped make this happen!
Bread legislative staff continues to discuss the best way to proceed in the full House and full Senate. With the congressional session shortened this year by midterm elections, it is very important to keep child nutrition reauthorization moving toward final passage with the full funding of $1 billion. We are encouraged that President Obama and key White House staff have begun to advocate directly for the administration’s request of $1 billion in additional annual funding.
Bread for the World’s Lobby Day on June 15 offers an opportunity to speak with one voice on ending childhood hunger through tax policies, along with strong child nutrition programs. For more information, visit www.bread.org/lobbyday.