May 6, 2021

The Summer Nutrition Programs are critical supports for millions of families when the school year ends, yet they remain underutilized in many communities. There is an important opportunity through the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization process to take lessons learned from the more than 50 years that the Summer Nutrition Programs have been operating to reenergize, reimagine, and reinvest in the key programs meant to fill the summer nutrition gap.

One key way to accomplish this is through the Summer Meals Act of 2021 (S. 1170 / H.R. 783), which would increase access to the Summer Nutrition Programs by eliminating common barriers to participation and by permanently incorporating many of the policies that have been an option during COVID-19. The provisions in the bill also can help support the large investment that the Biden administration and Congress have made into summer educational and enrichment programming. This bipartisan bill has been introduced by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representatives Don Young (R-AK) and Rick Larsen (D-WA).

Below are key ways that the Summer Meals Act of 2021 would combat summer hunger.

  1. Lower the area eligibility threshold from 50 percent. This would allow more communities to serve children whose families are struggling and would improve access to summer meals in every state. In response to COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a nationwide waiver to allow summer food sponsors to operate sites in areas that do not meet the 50 percent threshold. This has been essential to reaching children that were newly eligible due to the changing economy, and highlights the limitations of the 50 percent threshold in reaching children who need summer meals.
  2. Streamline the Summer Food Service Program and Afterschool Meal Program. Many sites that operate the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) also serve meals after school during the school year through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Currently, sponsors must apply for and operate two separate programs despite the fact they often serve the same children. Allowing SFSP sponsors to operate year-round would encourage overall program retention as well as eliminate duplicative and burdensome paperwork while supporting sponsors’ efforts to serve more children in their community.
  3. Allow all summer meal sites to serve three meals. Most sites can only provide a maximum of two meals per day. When schools closed in response to COVID-19, USDA allowed sponsors to provide children three nutritious meals per day by combining the breakfast and lunch available through the Summer Nutrition Programs with the supper (and snack) available through the CACFP Afterschool Meal Program. This also helps align summer with the school year, when children can receive breakfast and lunch at school, and an afterschool supper and snack through the Afterschool Supper Program.
  4. Provide funding for transportation grants to fund innovative approaches and mobile meal trucks. Transportation is one of the biggest barriers to participation, and these grants would increase low-income children’s access to summer meals in rural and other underserved areas.

As communities continue to respond to COVID-19, one thing is increasingly clear: now is the time for thoughtful investments in order to ensure more children can access the summer meals they need.

Join FRAC in supporting the Summer Meals Act of 2021!

  • Organizations can endorse the Summer Meals Act by completing this form (Here’s the current list of national and state organizations endorsing this bill).