Sen. Marshall Introduces Bill to Make Summer Meal Programs More Flexible
(Washington, D.C., June 10, 2021) – U.S. Senator Roger Marshall, M.D. joined a bipartisan group of his colleagues in introducing the Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Actto add flexibility to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which offers children free lunch and snacks in the summer. This 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.
Children should not go hungry during the summer months due to outdated regulations and a failed one size fits all approach. I applaud the USDA for ensuring children had access to nutritious food during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their efforts allowed us to build on important lessons learned and develop this meaningful legislation,” said Senator Marshall. “I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan solution alongside my colleagues to ensure local leaders have the flexibility needed to reach those in need, especially children in even the most rural areas of my home state of Kansas.”
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 the 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.
This legislation applies the knowledge gained from USDA program expansions during the height of the pandemic, such as Meals to You, a public-private partnership that delivered almost 40 million meals to rural kids nationwide. The Meals to You program served 176 kids in 2 school districts in Kansas: Fairfield Unified School District in Reno County and Golden Plains Unified School District in Sheridan County. The expanded program terminated when the majority of rural schools returned to in-person instruction last fall.
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 Programapproved retailers. In USDA pilot programs, summer EBT was shown to reduce child hunger by over 30 percent.