Gillibrand, Murkowski Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Give More Kids Access to Healthy Meals

Legislation Would Build on Successful USDA Program to Provide Free, Healthy Meals for Low-Income Children

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today announced a bill to expand access to healthy meals for kids when school is out for the summer. During the summer months, children who rely on school meals to eat face the risk of going hungry. Gillibrand and Murkowski’s legislation, the Summer Meals Act of 2019, would improve the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program, which provides low-income children who would normally receive free or reduced lunch during the school year with nutritious meals during the summer. This bill would allow more children to have access to summer meals, provide transportation for children in rural and hard-to-reach areas to be able to access summer meals, and add flexibility to the program so that children can get more than one meal.

Every child deserves access to healthy meals, but for too many children, the most nutritious meals they eat are provided at school,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Today, I’m announcing a bill that would provide more children with a reliable source of meals during their summer vacation. With summer already underway, I urge my colleagues to support my bipartisan Summer Meals Act so that we can help give our students the best chance to grow healthy and strong.”

“For far too many children in Alaska and across the country, the meals served at school and in afterschool and summer programs are the only meals they can rely on, and when those meals are not available, those children go hungry,” said Senator Murkowski. “Federal policies that make it harder for schools and non-profit agencies to feed hungry children after school, during school vacation, and when schools are closed after a disaster, can and must be fixed. The Summer Meals Act is designed to do just that, and I look forward to working with Senator Gillibrand and other colleagues to include this legislation in the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.”

“Summer can be a tough time for low-income children because they lose access to free and reduced-price school meals. Summer meal programs play a critical role in closing the hunger gap during the summer, but we know this program is reaching only a portion of Alaskan kids in need,” said Jim Baldwin, Food Bank of Alaska CEO. “The Summer Meals Act would strengthen, streamline, and expand access to summer meals, particularly for the hard-to-reach, rural areas of our state. We are thrilled that Senator Murkowski is sponsoring this important legislation, which will help feed hungry kids and ensure they start the school year ready to learn.”

“The start of summer should be a time for fun, but for many families it also means the loss of essential resources that provide food.  For students whose families are struggling in poverty, time away from school isn't an exciting blip on an otherwise calm school year.  For them, it can be a crippling time of insecurity when it comes to food,” said Lynette Ortolano, Executive Director of KidsKupboard. “More than 7,000 students in the MatSu valley come from households that are so poor they can’t afford the amount and type of food that’s needed to stave off malnutrition.  These children return from summer break fatigued and ill prepared for learning.  This scenario plays out in classrooms across our state every August.   Access to fresh healthy meals over the summer has been proved to prepare kids to be more productive and ready to learn when school starts again.  Summer meal program improvements through the Summer Meals Act legislation are key to strengthening students, families and communities.

The Children’s Lunchbox is delighted to support this effort to address the proposed changes to allow for non-congregate feeding in hard to reach, underserved areas and to ensure that organizations could receive reimbursement following a disaster but prior to a Presidential declaration.  The priority of our organization is to feed children first – no questions asked.  We support legislation and efforts to reduce delays in feeding children in need, and removing obstacles to ensure quicker delivery of service,” said Kim Kovol, Beans Café Deputy Director.

The USDA Summer Food Service Program works with public and non-profit educational enrichment organizations that keep children engaged and safe during the school months to provide meals for children under the age of 18 who would normally receive free or reduced lunch during the school year. The Summer Meals Act of 2019 would improve the program by doing the following:

  • Help more children access healthy food by lowering the threshold to allow areas with 40 percent or more of students receiving free or reduced lunch to be eligible for the program, rather than the current threshold of 50 percent.
  • Reduce the paperwork burden for meal program sponsors who want to participate in the program.
  • Improve nutrition in rural, underserved, and hard to reach areas by providing transportation grants for underserved areas to get children to summer meal sites and by promoting innovative ways to increase children’s access to summer meals, such as through mobile meal trucks.
  • Offer sites the option of serving two meals and a snack or three meals to children who attend evening enrichment programs during the school year and summer months.
  • Allow Summer Nutrition Program providers to serve food to children after emergencies or disasters and be reimbursed if the meals are taken offsite.

For the full text of the bill, click here.

For a one pager of the bill, click here.

Related Issues: Education