July 25, 2023

The Food Research and Action Center’s (FRAC) Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report released this week finds that nearly 3 million children received a lunch through the Summer Nutrition Programs on an average day in July 2022, a decrease of almost 2.4 million children from July 2021.  

Despite a return to relative normalcy in summer 2022, many communities still struggled to recover from the disruptions introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Summer enrichment programs — which have always provided a key foundation for summer meals — faced ongoing staffing shortages. Although the pandemic-era waivers that allowed summer meal sites to operate in every community and provided flexibility for meal service operations were technically available for summer 2022, Congress did not extend the waivers until the end of June 2022 

Key findings from the report include:

  • In July 2022, 11 children received a summer lunch for every 100 who received a free or reduced-price lunch during the 2021–2022 school year. This gap was driven by both the decrease in summer lunch participation and the large increase in the number of children receiving free lunch during the school year due to the pandemic waivers that allowed schools to offer free lunch to all students. 
  • Participation in summer lunch in July 2022 was slightly higher than pre-pandemic levels: 201,459 additional children received a summer lunch in July 2022 compared to July 2019 (the last summer before the pandemic). 
  • The number of SFSP sponsors and sites decreased from July 2021 to July 2022. Nationally, 4,552 sponsors (a decrease of 1,642 sponsors from 2021) and 35,557 sites (a decrease of 11,442 sites from 2021) participated in July 2022. This decrease in sites may be attributed to the area eligibility waiver that allowed SFSP sponsors to serve meals in areas that did not meet the 50 percent threshold not being offered until the end of June 2022, which was too late for many sponsors to successfully utilize it. 

The last three summers have provided a key introspection into the Summer Nutrition Programs and the role they can and should play as the landscape of summer food continues to change. In December 2022, federal legislation created a new permanent program that will provide an Electronic Benefit Transfer card to purchase food during the summer months to families eligible for free or reduced-price school meals, which is an important strategy to reduce summer hunger and overcome many of the transportation and timing barriers that summer meals sites can face. The legislation also allows non-congregate meal service in underserved rural areas. 

With participation in July 2022 falling close to pre-pandemic levels, it is critical that strategic investments and increased efforts are made to ensure the Summer Nutrition Programs can meet their full potential. This includes implementing proven best practices, such as setting state expansion goals and engaging governors and elected officials, as well as supporting strategies that expand access to summer meals when Child Nutrition Reauthorization is revisited. 

Dig into the research and see how your state is doing by reading FRAC’s report here.