WASHINGTON, August 4, 2020 — Too many children across the country are missing out on the nutrition they need during the summer months when the school year — and access to school breakfast and lunch — ends, according to a new report released today by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). The Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report finds 2.8 million children received summer lunch on an average weekday in July 2019, reaching only one child for every 7 low-income children who participated in school lunch during the 2018-2019 school year. Even fewer children — 1.5 million — ate breakfast at a summer meals site in July 2019, according to a companion report.
Summer meal programs play a critical role in closing the summer nutrition gap that exists for low-income families, but 77,000 fewer children received meals through summer lunch programs in July 2019 compared to July 2018. Participation also decreased in summer breakfast by 17,000 that same year.
The report ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia on participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs. The report measures participation in Summer Nutrition Programs by comparing the number of children receiving summer meals to the number of low-income children receiving school lunch during the regular school year.
Participation varied significantly across the country. The top performing states reached 1 child for every 4 low-income children who participated in summer lunch, and the lowest performing states serving just 1 in 10. The top performing states include the District of Columbia, Vermont, New Mexico, New York, and Maine.
Summer Nutrition Programs provide funding to schools, local government agencies, and private nonprofit organizations, to offer healthy meals at sites. Meals and snacks are provided at sites where at least 50 percent of the children in the geographic area are eligible.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency school closures have generated a new demand in Summer Nutrition Programs as families in need of resources to feed children who had lost access to free and reduced-price school meals. To meet the need, schools and community organizations quickly answered the call.
“Summer meal sites have stepped up to the plate ahead of season to make sure no child would go hungry. The impact of COVID-19 will be long-lasting, but it provides an important opportunity to take the lessons learned when the pandemic hit this spring,” said Luis Guardia, president, FRAC. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued nationwide summer waivers to ensure access to summer meals during the pandemic, such as waiving the 50 percent eligibility requirement. These waivers must continue through the upcoming school to allow communities to serve meals to low-income children during the pandemic. Congress should consider making some of the changes permanent to ensure access during normal summers.”
The Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer program (also known as Summer EBT), which is structured similar to the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program (also known as Pandemic EBT or P-EBT), helps to ensure that children who would normally receive meals at school do not go hungry while schools are closed. Summer EBT — one of the most promising demonstration projects — should be expanded. And as schools and communities continue to respond to the unprecedented health, educational, and economic crisis created by COVID-19, Congress should extend and strengthen the P-EBT program.
Increased investments in the Summer Nutrition Programs, combined with the implementation of best practices, such as intensive outreach, site recruitment, and reducing barriers to participation, will help eliminate the nutrition and summer learning opportunity gaps for the millions of children facing food insecurity at unprecedented levels.
If every state had reached the goal of 40 children participating in the Summer Nutrition Programs in July 2019 for every 100 receiving free or reduced-price lunch during the 2018–2019 school year, an additional 5.2 million children would have been fed each weekday.
About the Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation Reports
The Summer Nutrition Status Report measures participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs in July 2019 in absolute numbers and by comparing the number of children receiving summer meals to the number of low-income children receiving school lunch during the regular school year, nationally and in each state. The regular school year is used as a benchmark because such a high proportion of low-income children eat school lunch on regular school days. The Summer Breakfast Status Report similarly measures the reach of breakfast through the Summer Nutrition Programs in July 2019, nationally and in each state.
The Food Research & Action Center is the leading national nonprofit organization working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.