In Louisiana, over 430,000 children participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) receiving free or reduced-price meals in the cafeteria every day of the school year. When summer rolls around, these children are often left without reasonable access to three full meals a day and their families, who relied on the availability of school meals, struggle to fill the gap. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) aims to fill this gap by engaging schools, community organizations, and local governments to provide free meals to children over the summer months.
However, in the summer of 2018, it is estimated that only 5.8 children out of every 100 Louisiana children who participated in the free/reduced school lunch program, also participated in the SFSP summer meal program. Louisiana is ranked 50 out of the all states and the District of Columbia for participation in summer meals with an estimated 406,679 eligible children currently untouched by the program; this equates to approximately $1.57 million in federal reimbursements that is left on the table.
The Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR), which is slated for evaluation every five years, provides guidelines for the major federal child nutrition programs including summer meals under the SFSP program. With the most recent CNR enacted in 2010, we are far overdue for a reexamination of these guidelines and how they are serving children around the country. The 2019 process is a vital opportunity to invest in these programs and incorporate provisions which will ultimately increase participation in free summer meals and all child nutrition programs amongst families in need. With almost 1 in 4 Louisiana children experiencing food insecurity, the programs defined by the CNR process are key tools to ensure the stability, health, and well-being of all children in the state.
To jump start this process and address the issue of the summer meal gap, three marker bills have been introduced in the Senate which aim to increase access to summer meals in high need communities.
The Stop Child Hunger Act (S.1941): Would establish a Summer EBT program which provides an allowance per child over the summer months, to families with children who participate in the free/reduced school lunch program during the school year.
The Summer Meals Act of 2019 (S.1908): Would lower the area eligibility requirement for summer meals sites from 50% or higher poverty rate to a 40% or higher poverty rate; would allocate grant funding for areas with high need and low participation or for areas hit by disasters; would allow all sites to serve up to 3 full, reimbursable meals every day.
Hunger Free Summer for Kids (S.1918): Would allow sites to serve “non-congregate” or mobile meals to children rather than requiring them to eat their meal on site; would allow states to implement Summer EBT which provides additional SNAP benefits during the summer months to families with children who participate in the free/reduced school lunch program during the school year.
Feeding Louisiana supports all three bills and is advocating for a greater Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) which expands the ability of states, sponsors, and program sites to serve children in need over the summer months and year-round. The three marker bills outlined above and the CNR as a whole are vital opportunities to make federal child nutrition programs more effective and accessible to the children and families who rely on them. We are urging Senators Cassidy & Kennedy to stand with Louisiana children and sign onto these bills as co-sponsors and to vote in favor as they move through the legislative process.
Feeding Louisiana provides a unified voice for Louisiana's hungry by providing short-term food relief while seeking long-term solutions to hunger through advocacy, education, and leadership. Feeding Louisiana is made up of the five Feeding America member food banks in Louisiana, serving all 64 parishes through a network of more than 900 community and faith-based organizations.