Many families celebrate the advent of the summer school vacation with picnics to the beach and cookouts. Students and teachers alike are excited to take a break from classrooms and mandated testing. For families with children on free or reduced price lunch, summer vacation can be devastating. No school means no lunch or breakfast for millions of school-aged children. Summer vacations present a gap in the nutritional needs of low-income children. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) seeks to fill that gap. Unfortunately, only one in seven children currently registered for the free and reduced price lunch program participates in SFSP (Facts on the Summer Food Service Program, n.d.).
Families who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefits are automatically enrolled in free and reduced price lunch programs. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) uses the federal poverty guidelines to determine eligibility for SNAP benefits. Attached are the USDA’s “Income Eligibility Guidelines” for the 2016-2017 school year (Income Eligibility Guidelines, 2016). For families not eligible for SNAP, there is a sliding scale for reduced price meals based on family income. These same families are eligible for services from SFSP (Facts on the Summer Food Service Program, n.d.).
During the summer, The Summer Food Service Program provides free meals and snacks to low-income children The program fed 3.2 million children a day during the month of July, 2014. The Summer Food Service Program is implemented in two ways. It can operate on an enrollment basis or as an open program. In order to be eligible for funding, a site must operate in a low-income neighborhood and serve a population consisting of at least 50% on free and reduced price lunch. Individual groups such as nonprofits, YMCA camps, and local governments can run a SFSP site. Usually an SFSP site also provides some sort of academic enrichment in addition to free meals and snacks.
There is an estimated 22 million children who receive free or reduced price lunch during the school year. Only 3.2 million of them participate in the Summer Food Service Program. This may indicate that a significant number of children may be going hungry during the summer months, the SFSP is not operating in a satisfactory manner, or many families find it difficult to visit an SFSP site to obtain a meal because of the lack of transportation.
In the summer of 2015, the USDA proposed a program to help meet the nutritional needs of low-income seniors and people with disabilities who are unable to access community based resources. For the first time, the USDA is proposing that agencies that deliver groceries accept SNAP benefits, allowing them to deliver groceries to people who cannot travel to a grocery store. A program like this has the potential to also impact the lives of low-income children who are unable to visit the SFSP sites.
The Obama administration has proposed a new program to help feed families during the summer. This program would give families eligible for free or reduced-price lunches an electronic benefit card. These cards would allow families to spend an extra $45 per child a week on groceries. Such a program would erase the transportation difficulties associated with traveling to SFSP sites. It would also allow families to make independent choices in regards to their family diet. Unfortunately, this idea has yet to put into action due to Congressional inaction. Thus, millions of children may not be receiving nutritious meals. This is a perfect example of how Congress and the White House need to put aside differences to provide services that would benefit our country’s most vulnerable children.
Facts on the Summer Food Service Program. (n.d.). Food Research and Action Center. Retrieved from http://frac.org/pdf/sfsp_fact_sheet.pdf
Fessler, P. (2016). President Obama Wants More Funds to Feed Low-income Kids In Summer. Kosu. Retrieved from http://kosu.org/post/president-obama-wants-more-funds-feed-low- income-kids-summer#stream/0
Income Eligibility Guidelines. (2016). Federal Register. Retrieved from https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/03/23/2016-06463/child-nutrition- programs-income-eligibility-guidelines#h-8
Emma Hamstra (C’16)