Dear Member of Congress:
As members of Feeding America’s network of 200 food banks and thousands of local partners across the nation, we urge you to invest in and strengthen programs that provide low-income children with the nutrition they need to grow and thrive, particularly during out-of-school times when children are hard to reach in the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization.
We are on the front lines of the fight against hunger. Every day, we see families struggling with the negative consequences associated with food insecurity. We also see the positive impact federal child nutrition programs have on families and children in our community through pre-school, school-based, and out-of-school time programs, as well as support pregnant women, infants and toddlers receive through the WIC program. For children from low-income families, the programs play a critical role in helping access quality nutrition, child care, educational and enrichment activities while improving their overall health, development and school achievement.
Yet significant gaps remain, particularly in programs that serve children when they are away from school. These programs represent strong public-private partnerships that rely on staff and facilities from thousands of community-based organizations across the nation. Even as community providers have implemented innovative models to reach more kids, often with private funds, too many low-income food-insecure children remain unable to access these programs. During the summer, a mere 16 percent of the more than 21 million children who receive free or reduced price lunch during the school year access a summer feeding program. This leaves millions of children in our communities unserved during this critical time away from school.
As program operators working with these programs and children on a daily basis, we understand the challenges and the changes needed to ensure more of our children have the nutrition they need to thrive. To strengthen child nutrition programs through reauthorization, Congress should:
- Strengthen Communities’ Ability to Reach Kids During the Summer. Make it easier for communities to establish summer feeding sites in underserved areas and give communities the ability to feed kids in hard to reach areas through alternate delivery models. This includes giving families a summer grocery card to supplement their household food budget, and providing flexibility from the requirement that kids consume meals on-site, allowing communities to deliver or send meals home with children.
- Streamline Regulations for Community-Based Providers. Remove unnecessary red tape between summer and afterschool nutrition programs by allowing community-based organizations to operate the Summer Food Service Program year-round, eliminating duplicative administrative processes and aligning inconsistent program requirements.
- Allow Flexibility to Better Reach Kids During Weekends. Provide reimbursement for meals sent home with low-income children to feed them over the weekend.
- Leverage Schools Beyond the School Day. Encourage schools to make their facilities available to local nonprofits as a shared community resource, allowing communities to nourish more children when school is out
- Strengthen Access and Quality in School Meal Programs and WIC. Support schools’ ability to reach more low-income children during breakfast and lunch with nutritious, balanced meals, and ensure families have access to the important nutrition and health benefits that WIC provides.
Although food insecurity is harmful to everyone, it can be particularly devastating for children. Children who are food insecure, compared to those who are not, are sick more often and recover more slowly, are at greater risk for behavioral, emotional, and academic problems and show increased aggression and anxiety. The physical, emotional, and cognitive impacts of food insecurity can have a direct impact on children’s ability to perform in school. It impairs their ability to concentrate and can result in lower test scores. Further, adults who experienced food insecurity as children have lower levels of educational and technical skills, having a lasting impact on both individual outcomes and the workforce as a whole.
Every child needs an adequate, nutritious diet in order to grow, learn and thrive. Communities and the federal government can work together to end child hunger and ensure that every child has the food they need to be strong and healthy. We cannot make meaningful progress toward ending child hunger and ensuring every low-income child has access to nutritious food at home, in school and during summer and after-school times without an investment of new resources in child nutrition programs. We are confident that even in a time of limited resources, our nation can make decisions that reflect our shared value of helping ensure low-income children receive the nutrition they need.
We call upon you to adhere to Congress’s historical, bipartisan commitment to strengthening child nutrition programs. We also encourage you to visit a food bank or children’s feeding program serving your district so you can see for yourself how important child nutrition programs are to the communities you serve.