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Report finds 1.5M children receive meals in Afterschool Nutrition Programs — but we can do more!

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Report finds 1.5M children receive meals in Afterschool Nutrition Programs — but we can do more!

By Clarissa Hayes, Interim Deputy Director, School and Out-of-School Time Programs at Food Research & Action Center (FRAC).

The Afterschool Nutrition Programs offered an important opportunity to combat hunger during the 2020–2021 school year as communities and families continued to feel the educational, health, and economic impacts of COVID-19.

FRAC’s new report, Afterschool Suppers: A Snapshot of Participation, found that while the Afterschool Supper Program was able to experience modest growth in October 2020, it still only reached 1 in 12 children who participated in school lunch during a time of elevated food insecurity. Almost 1.5 million children received a supper through the available Afterschool Nutrition Programs in October 2020 when compared to October 2019, an increase of 2.6 percent, or 37,317 children.

While it is important to celebrate these gains in light of the challenges introduced by the pandemic, participation is still too low, and it is critical that the Afterschool Nutrition Programs are better positioned to meet the growing need moving forward.

Fortunately, there are clear steps forward to expand the reach of the Afterschool Nutrition Programs so they better serve all of the families who need them.

  • Child Nutrition Reauthorization. The upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization offers Congress an important opportunity to make long-term policy improvements to the Afterschool Nutrition Programs. One key proposal would allow all sponsors the opportunity to provide meals year-round through SFSP, which is less administratively burdensome than CACFP. Lowering the area eligibility threshold that sites must meet to provide meals and snacks from 50 percent, which has been an option through waivers during COVID-19, would make more low-income communities eligible to participate. Learn more about ways to strengthen the Afterschool Nutrition Programs.
  • Leveraging and Maximizing Funding for Afterschool Programs. It also will be critical that the underlying afterschool enrichment programs, which traditionally go hand in hand with afterschool suppers and snacks, are championed and supported. Policymakers are already recognizing the important role these programs will play in COVID-19 recovery: the most recent COVID-19 relief package, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, included $30 billion in funding to support summer and afterschool programs on the state and local level. Advocates on every level should ensure that this funding is fully utilized and that any new afterschool programs are aware of the option to participate in the Afterschool Nutrition Programs. Learn more about this funding opportunity.
  • Revisiting Lessons Learned and Best Practices to Increase Access. While COVID-19 has presented new challenges and considerations for expanding the reach of afterschool suppers and snacks, there remains an important opportunity to use both the lessons learned from the last year-and-a-half alongside proven best practices to make substantial strides forward in supporting and expanding the Afterschool Nutrition Programs. Learn more about opportunities to increase the reach of the Afterschool Nutrition Programs.

Advocates, policymakers, and program providers must use every tool available — including Child Nutrition Reauthorization, increased funding for afterschool programs, and the implementation of proven best practices — to make these programs the strongest, streamlined, and accessible version they can be moving forward.

“Afterschool programs that provide nutritious meals offer an important support as the nation recovers,” said Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance. “Afterschool programs have provided a lifeline for many families and children throughout the pandemic, offering access to meals and more. That support must continue for our recovery. We need to keep the lights on after school.”

Use FRAC’s resources and research to support your efforts to increase afterschool meals participation in your state and local community. Learn more about closing the afterschool hunger gap in Afterschool Suppers: A Snapshot of Participation.

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