By Alyssa Casey
In 2015, Bread for the World focused our Offering of Letters on improving low-income children’s access to nutrition programs. One in five children in the U.S. lives in homes that struggle with hunger. For many of these children, child nutrition programs – such as school lunch and breakfast, the summer food program, and WIC (the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children) – are the best way to get the nutritious food they need to learn, grow, and be healthy.
It’s now 2016, but there is still important, unfinished business in this area from last year.
Congress is expected to prepare legislation this year that will reauthorize child nutrition programs. Bipartisan support to improve children’s access to these critical programs continues to grow.
Bread recently highlighted a new report from the National Commission on Hunger. This bipartisan commission, appointed by Congress, provided 20 recommendations to improve anti-hunger programs and address hunger in the U.S. Four of the report’s recommendations focus on ways to improve child nutrition programs.
The commission recommends reconsidering strict requirements that can be barriers to summer meals for children. For example, current rules require children to travel to an approved site, such as a school or library, and consume all foods on site, with strict rules against taking any food home with them. This model works when children are able to travel to a site, because they participate in educational programs or activities in addition to receiving meals. However, in rural areas, where transportation during summer is unavailable, or high-violence areas, children may be unable to reach feeding sites.
Solutions such as grants to fund transportation or providing families electronic benefit transfer (EBT) funds during the summer have proven successful in test pilots. EBT cards – debit-like cards with a fixed sum for purchasing groceries – decreased severe food insecurity by up to one-third in pilot areas. This may be why the commission specifically recommends making summer EBT available in more hard-to-reach areas.
The commission also recommends simplifying the administrative process to remove some of the red tape for sites – such as libraries or parks and recreation centers – operating child nutrition programs.
The fact that three of the four child-nutrition recommendations focus on summer programs is probably not surprising to Bread members who learned through the 2015 Offering of Letters that for every six low-income children who receive lunch during the school year, only one also receives meals during summer. That’s a gaping hole. Yet as the commission’s report shows, proven solutions exist.
If hunger experts from across the political spectrum can agree on ways to connect more children with meals, especially during summer months, Congress should be able to take up some of these recommendations as they reauthorize child nutrition programs this year.
Tell your member of Congress to support bipartisan solutions that improve access to meals for children – especially during the summer hunger gap.
As the commission’s report points out: “Our country—with all its strength, genius, creativity, and spirit of community—has the ability to be free from hunger.”
Alyssa Casey is interim domestic policy analyst at Bread for the World.