Do you remember what it felt like to be a kid on summer vacation? For a lot of young Americans, July and August means hanging out with friends, taking family trips, swimming wherever you can – maybe even going to camp, or curling up with a good book. But for millions of students across the country, those fun summer days are clouded by a painful reality that just won’t seem to go away: hunger.
During the school year, school districts around the country provide 22 million students with free or reduced-price school lunches. This essential nutrition service helps underprivileged kids to stay focused and competitive during the school day. But once school lets out for the year, only 1 in 7 of these children continues to receive free or reduced-price lunches in the summer. That leaves millions of kids in America hungry during lunchtime over their entire summer vacation. In New York, my home state, 1.7 million children receive free or reduced-price school lunches during the school year; in the summer, only 27 percent of them will get the nutrition they need.
We have to do better.
A problem of this proportion – millions of students going hungry during the summer because they don’t have access to a nutritional lunch – is unacceptable. This is a crisis we should all feel compelled to solve. I recently stood at the Booker T. Washington Community Center in Auburn, New York, and announced the introduction of the Summer Meals Act – a bipartisan bill that would enhance the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program.
Our Summer Meals Act has four goals. First, the bill would expand which communities are eligible to participate in the Summer Food Service Program. Right now, to be eligible for summer meals, a community must have 50 percent of its children eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches during the school year in order to receive meal assistance in the summer. Our bill would drop this to a much fairer 40 percent, opening up the Summer Food Service Program to many more communities.
Second, the Summer Meals Act would reduce red tape for public-private partnerships. Right now, it’s too burdensome for non-school organizations to supply much-needed meals to hungry children. Our bill would make it much easier for organizations like the local food bank or youth center to give kids the nutrition that they need.
Third, the Summer Meals Act would increase access to summer meals in hard-to-reach rural areas. Hunger is by no means just an urban problem; for many kids in underserved areas who don’t have access to healthy food, a formidable barrier is just getting to the summer meal site. Our bill would give kids new transportation options to reach their meal sites.
Fourth, the Summer Meals Act would lift the burden on hardworking parents who have to stay at their workplaces during dinnertime. Our bill would give kids the option of receiving two daily meals and a snack from the Summer Food Service Program, or even three meals, if they need them.
No child in America in 2014 should have to wake up every day wondering if he or she is going to have enough to eat before bedtime. The Summer Meals Act is a critically important bill that would seriously reduce child hunger in America. Every kid in America deserves a summer vacation that’s free of hunger.