Feeding Louisiana released a new report today, in partnership with the Louisiana Budget Project, which evaluates the high rates of child hunger in our state and the opportunities to strengthen access to the summer meals program through administrative, programatic, and legislative action. Under normal conditions, Louisiana has the highest rate of child hunger with one in four Louisiana children experiencing food insecurity. While this report was produced prior to the current crisis, the COVID pandemic has only exacerbated this need and we now estimate more than one in three children are experiencing food insecurity. These unprecedented times have made it even more clear that we must continue to invest in our nutrition programs, including the summer feeding program, and work to build a more resilient emergency food system for the thousands of Louisiana children experiencing food insecurity.
The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is a federally funded nutrition program that provides free meals to children in low-income areas when school isn’t in session, typically from late May through early August. The program helps ensure that kids who benefit from free and reduced lunch during the school year have enough to eat while school is out of session. But in Louisiana, where 1 in 4 children live in food-insecure households, fewer kids have received meals through the program each year since 2014. In 2018, the Summer Food Service Program reached only an estimated 11.9% of Louisiana children who receive free and reduced lunch during the school year. That puts Louisiana near the bottom of the national rankings—below 41 other states (including Washington DC).
Not only are a declining number of children receiving summer meals in Louisiana, but a declining number of sites in the state participate in the program, leaving Louisiana kids with fewer places to find free summer meals now than they did five years ago. Between the summer of 2015 and the summer of 2019, the number of sites serving summer meals in the state fell by 16.4%. Currently, eight Louisiana parishes lack any summer meal sites, while others have far fewer sites than needed to serve children living in poverty. For Louisiana families, this translates to real hardship: studies consistently show that low-income households with children experience spikes in food insecurity during the summer months.
Louisiana’s children cannot continue to learn, grow, and play if they don’t have enough nutritious food to eat when school is out of session. Our state must make a concerted effort to increase the scale and reach of Louisiana’s summer meals program.
To better serve Louisiana’s children, all year round, we recommend that Louisiana’s Department of Education:
Strengthen efforts to recruit additional program sponsors and sites
Coordinate a robust statewide network of program sponsors and sites to share best practices for program administration, and to strengthen recruitment and retention efforts across the state
Follow best practices to market the program effectively and without stigma to families and kids
Make the program easier for sponsors and sites to administer by simplifying program rules through federal waivers and existing state flexibilities
Support sponsors in using creative best practices to reach kids in high-need, hard-to-reach areas
The report also recommends legislative actions at the state and federal level to appropriate funds and codify improvements to the Summer Food Service Program to further support effective implementation across the state of Louisiana.
Read the Full Report HERE.
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.
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