Today, Sens. John Boozman (R, AR), Mitch McConnell (R, KY), Michael Bennet (D, CO), Sherrod Brown (D, OH), Joe Donnelly (D, IN), and Mark Kirk (R, IL) introduced the new Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act, a bill that could help to end summer hunger for millions of children nationwide.
The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act would give states more flexibility in how they reach hungry children with the food they need when school is out of session. Once implemented, this legislation could give as many as 6.5 million kids the chance to get the food they need during the summer months.
“This is a critical moment,” says Billy Shore, founder and CEO of Share Our Strength. “These policy improvements are fundamental to ending childhood hunger in America and ensuring that our children are fit, fed, and ready to learn when school resumes.”
Summer is the hungriest time of year for many children from low-income families. Losing access to school meals for their kids puts added strain on already-tight budgets, and families are left making tough trade-offs. According to research, two-thirds of all low-income families say they’ve had to choose between food and utilities; two-thirds also had to choose between food and medical care.
The national summer meals program was created 40 years ago to help students get enough nutrition when school is out of session. When the program works well, it’s a lifeline. Today, however, the program just doesn’t reach a majority of kids in need; of the 22 million kids who receive a free or reduced-price school lunch, only 4 million are getting a summer meal.
The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act would help to change that. The bill would make it easier for states to reach low-income children in hard-to-reach places, such as rural communities or areas currently ineligible to host summer sites. For example, when accessing a summer meal site is difficult or impossible for children, it would provide the option to deliver meals or allow children to leave a site with a meal for later. In other circumstances, states would have the option to provide low-income families with a grocery store credit during the summer months to purchase nutritious foods, a model has been proven to reduce the most severe forms of childhood hunger by up to one-third.
“This legislation’s impact will be felt across the nation,” Shore says. “Ending summer hunger for this many children would have a massive impact on issues like avoidable healthcare costs, graduation rates, and future economic competitiveness.”