WASHINGTON, July 25, 2023 — An alarming number of children missed out on nutritious meals provided through the Summer Nutrition Programs last summer, according to a report released today by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), the nation’s leading anti-hunger advocacy organization.
FRAC’s Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report reveals 2.4 million fewer children received a lunch on an average day in July 2022, a decrease of 44.5 percent from the previous summer. Participation rates for breakfast fell even further as 2.9 million fewer children received a breakfast on an average day in July 2022, a decrease of 61.6 percent compared to July 2021.
The decline in participation follows a remarkable two-year run of summer meal participation in 2020 and 2021, which was made possible by child nutrition waivers issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These waivers allowed summer meal sites to operate in every community and provided meal program sponsors with the flexibilities needed to maintain children’s access to breakfast and lunch during the COVID-19 public health crisis. Although waivers were technically available for summer 2022, Congress did not extend the waivers until late June, making it difficult for many sponsors to utilize them. This delay, combined with program staffing shortages, supply chain disruptions, and many meal sites shuttering as a result of the pandemic, led to fewer children receiving a summer lunch in 2022.
Key highlights from the report:
- Almost 3 million children received a lunch through the Summer Nutrition Programs on an average day in July 2022.
- Just over 1.8 million children received a breakfast through the Summer Nutrition Programs on an average day in July 2022.
- No state met FRAC’s goal of reaching 40 children with summer lunch for every 100 children who received free or reduced-price lunch during the 2021–2022 regular school year.
- In July 2022, 11 children received a summer lunch for every 100 who received a lunch during the 2021–2022 school year.
The decrease in participation comes at a time when the Summer Nutrition Programs are changing. In December 2022, federal legislation created a permanent program that will provide an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card to purchase food during the summer months to families eligible for free or reduced-price school meals, extending the summer benefits families have received through the Pandemic EBT Program. This approach offers 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. Summer EBT is an important complement to the provision of summer meals, and these approaches, along with the long-standing congregate meal sites that often offer meals and educational enrichment, help fill the summer nutrition gap that too many families experience across the country.
“As we work to ensure that children have access to nutrition during the summer, providing summer meals in combination with educational and enrichment programming should remain the gold standard,” said Luis Guardia, president of FRAC. “More needs to be done to ensure more children get the nutrition as well as the educational, social, and emotional support they need during the summer. After all, summer should be a special time for children to play, learn, and grow without the worry of going hungry.”
FRAC recommends action at the local, state, and federal levels to improve summer meals access, including urging Congress to support strategies that expand access to summer meals when Child Nutrition Reauthorization is revisited, and encouraging meal providers to adopt best practices for increasing the reach of these programs.
“With greater investments, more children can experience a summer free from hunger and can return to the new school year healthy and ready to learn,” said Guardia.
Read the full report.
The Food Research & Action Center improves the nutrition, health, and well-being of people struggling against poverty-related hunger in the United States through advocacy, partnerships, and by advancing bold and equitable policy solutions. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.