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Blunt, colleagues introduce bill to make summer meal programs more flexible

– Yesterday, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.) joined U.S. Senators John Boozman (Ark.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), and 11 other colleagues to introduce the Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act. The bill would add flexibility to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program, which offers children free lunch and snacks in the summer.

“The federal government’s rigid, one-size-fits-all approach to child hunger simply isn’t doing enough to solve the problem,”said Blunt. “Too many Missouri kids are going hungry during the summer months because they’re unable to access existing programs, through no fault of their own. I urge all of my colleagues to support this bipartisan bill to give food banks and other organizations the flexibility they need to ensure students have year-round access to nutritious meals.”.”

“This pandemic has taught us so much about the importance of expanding access and increasing flexibility for children to receive meals in non-traditional settings,”said Leahy. “The summer shouldn’t be a time where children, particularly in rural areas, struggle to find their next meal. This bill would implement many of the lessons learned during the pandemic to allow states to better meet the nutrition needs of their communities and ensure that no child goes hungry during the summer months. 

The bipartisan legislation applies lessons learned from the pandemic to existing child nutrition programs to make them more efficient, flexible, and better equipped to reach children in need during the summer months. The bill gives states additional options to reach hungry children in communities without a centralized feeding site during the summer, some of which mirror authorities Congress established to help USDA carry out this mission while students received instruction virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Current summer meals regulations require children to travel to a central location and eat together. This works well in some communities. However, in rural areas, it can be difficult for children to reach a site, if one even exists. In suburban and urban areas, inclement weather or violence can keep children from these sites and cause them to miss meals.

The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act proposes two alternative options states can utilize through the program. The first would allow for meals to be consumed off-site through innovative means like mobile feeding and backpack meal programs. The other option would authorize the summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program which would provide eligible families $30 per summer month per child to purchase eligible food items from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) approved retailers. In USDA pilot programs, summer EBT was shown to reduce child hunger by over 30%.

Similar steps taken during the pandemic to reduce exposure risks for COVID-19 proved quite successful in maximizing participation. For instance, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act authorized nationwide waivers allowing off-site meal distribution to a parent or guardian to take home to their children. Additionally, the Pandemic EBT program is essentially the same approach this bill proposes for families to use during the summer. 


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