Working To Close the Child Summer Hunger Gap – How Our Lawmakers Can Help

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When school ends, hunger doesn’t take a break. No more classes, no more homework…no more lunch? That’s the reality for millions of kids in the United States when summer break begins.

Summer is usually a time of fun and freedom for children, but for far too many kids who are low-income, summer becomes a season of hunger as they lose access to school breakfast and lunch. This reality is startling, especially as Feeding America estimates that 16% kids in Wisconsin may face food insecurity in 2021 due to the pandemic.

Our food banks are working to fight child summer hunger – but more needs to be done. Our lawmakers can help.

To help bridge the summer hunger gap, thousands of community organizations partner with the federal government to provide free summer meals and snacks to children in need through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

Far too many kids are missing out on summer meals, including many of the 204,600 kids in Wisconsin experiencing food insecurity. Translation: while summer meals programs are available for kids, they are only as strong as their ability to reach kids in need. To ensure kids in Wisconsin are able to receive summer meals – and to close the child summer hunger gap for good – our lawmakers must strengthen summer meals programs and allow alternate strategies to keep kids fed.

Summer feeding programs need investments to feed more kids in need. Congress has a critical opportunity to ensure the summer months aren’t hungry months by passing legislation that will provide more children with more food, particularly during the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization process. Specifically, our decision-makers must strengthen access to summer meals sites, remove red tape that makes it difficult for summer meal providers to serve food, provide a summer EBT grocery card to families with children, and allow flexibilities that will make it easier for kids to access summer meals no matter where they live.

One way lawmakers can bolster summer feeding is by strengthening summer feeding sites. By allowing providers to run a single program all year, and by increasing the number of available SFSP sites by improving area eligibility, respectively, providers would be able to seamlessly offer meals all year, and more programs would be able to operate summer feeding. Year-round food plus more food providers equals fewer kids who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

One-size-fits-all tools will not end summer hunger. We need the flexibility to reach kids in the summer that makes sense for our communities. Lawmakers should also make permanent the flexibilities provided during the pandemic. By giving community meal sites the option to send several days’ worth of meals home with kids, barriers of transportation and time necessary to consume meals at a site based distribution are diminished.

Lawmakers should also build on the success and efficiency of the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program which, like Summer EBT pilots before it, provides families with funds on an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card to make up for meals missed at school due to disruptions. The program has proven to be effective at lowering food insecurity among children and leading to more nutritious meals. Making a program like P-EBT permanent will ensure children in need can access the healthy meals they need to thrive. Especially in rural areas where summer feeding sites are hard to operate, and especially amid a pandemic when gathering together may not be feasible, alternative program models would provide communities with more tools to reach families in need.

There is nothing more important to the future of our country than our children, and there is nothing more basic than providing them with a nourishing meal. We need lawmakers to use the tools at hand to ensure every child has access to the food they need to learn, play and live healthy lives.

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