WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Hunger doesn’t take a summer break. While students are out of class, a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) program offers millions of them free food until they go back to school.
But, lawmakers say millions more should have access to healthy meals year-round.
During the summer, about three million low-income kids eat free meals and snacks at specific sites set up in Washington, DC. It’s part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program.
While that may sound like a lot, lawmakers say it’s not even a quarter of the kids who participate in similar programs during the school year.
“It sadly is a tremendous problem,” said U.S. Sen. John Boozman (R-Arkansas).
That’s why Boomzman is sponsoring a bill to expand the program.
Instead of kids traveling to a specific site for food, the legislation would give states the option to deliver it to them, or in some cases, allow eligible families to get more food stamps.
“Somebody needs to take care of them. We have programs to do this, but the problem is the rules haven’t changed since the 1960s. The world’s a very different place,” Boozman said.
After working on this proposal for years, Sen. Boozman said this is his best chance yet to get it done because he how has bipartisan support, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Advocacy groups are also hungry for change and have thrown their support behind the bill.
“Bread for the World is encouraged by the Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act of 2019, introduced by Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Approximately 22 million children are served free or reduced-price school lunches during the school year, while less than four million access a summer meal. Investments in summer EBT and some flexibility for Summer Food Service Program sites will help reach more children who are at greater risk of hunger during the summer months,” Heather Valentine, Director of Government Relations at Bread for the World said in a statement.
“When you relax the rules, the private sector, the nonprofits, people who want to help these individuals, they can do it,” Boozman said.
According to USDA, the department served more than 150 million meals and snacks to kids last summer at a cost of more than $480 million.
If it can get local, state and federal commitments, Boozman thinks his plan could be up and running by next summer.
He also believes it will ultimately be included in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR).
To find a summer meal program in your community, click here.
For more information on the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), click here.