October 20, 2020

FRAC’s report, Afterschool Suppers: A Snapshot of Participation, released this week, finds that over 1.4 million children received a supper through the Afterschool Nutrition Programs in October 2019, an increase of 6.5 percent, or 86,900 children, from October 2018. Almost 48,000 afterschool programs across the country provided a supper, a snack, or both through the Afterschool Nutrition Programs in October 2019, an important indicator of access to afterschool nutrition.

While the reach of afterschool suppers grew from October 2018 to October 2019, these programs still fell short of meeting the need, with only 6.6 children receiving an afterschool supper for every 100 low-income children who participated in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) during the same month.

As communities continue to respond to COVID-19, one thing is increasingly clear: the hours that children are “out of school” have been increasing, and afterschool suppers and snacks alongside afterschool programs are becoming more essential than ever.

To ensure continued access to afterschool suppers and snacks during COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued and extended waivers that allow the Afterschool Nutrition Programs to adapt to the new normal created by the pandemic. USDA has extended important waivers through the 2020–2021 school year, including

  • eliminating the area eligibility requirement so that afterschool meals and snacks can be offered in every community;
  • allowing families to take one or more afterschool meals and snacks home for consumption; and
  • providing flexibility around meeting the enrichment activity requirement virtually or at home.

Leveraging the flexibilities available this school year allows schools and community-based organizations to provide students up to three meals a day through the child nutrition programs, which is critical during this economic crisis.

However, long-term policy and program improvements should be implemented so that the Afterschool Nutrition Programs are able to support children’s nutritional needs as the country recovers from the economic and educational fallout driven by COVID-19, including

  • Increase Funding for Afterschool Programming: The need to increase public (federal, state, and local) and private funding to operate afterschool programs in low-income communities has always been needed, but its importance has been exacerbated by COVID-19. Afterschool programs will have an important role to play in mitigating the educational impact of COVID-19, particularly among low-income students. Additional investments will be critical to ensuring the very survival of many afterschool programs. These investments can be provided through future recovery funding bills and by way of additional federal, state, and local efforts. Learn more about the importance of afterschool programming and opportunities to advocate for additional funding at the Afterschool Alliance. Light’s On Afterschool, a nationwide event celebrating afterschool programs, is this Thursday, October 22, 2020.
  • Streamline program operations for schools and community-based providers: Currently, schools must operate the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to provide afterschool suppers in addition to school breakfast and lunch, and community-based organizations must operate both the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and CACFP to feed children year-round (during summer vacation and in their afterschool program). Allowing schools to provide afterschool suppers through the school nutrition programs and allowing community-based organizations to provide meals year-round through SFSP would increase the number of children served and significantly reduce duplicative administrative requirements.
  • Lower the area eligibility threshold to ensure that afterschool meals are more broadly available: The requirement that sites be located in an area in which at least 50 percent of the children are certified for free or reduced-price meals significantly limits access to afterschool meals, particularly in rural areas, causing too many low-income children to miss out on the healthy afterschool nutrition they need.. Eliminating the eligibility threshold requirement for sites or even taking incremental steps to lower it would improve access to suppers in every state.

The Afterschool Nutrition Programs and the afterschool community have been a critical part of the response to COVID-19, and will remain so as communities continue to recover, but additional work is needed and policies need to be strengthened to ensure that low-income children have access to afterschool meals.

Learn more about closing the afterschool hunger gap in Afterschool Suppers: A Snapshot of Participation.