Arkansas and Mississippi Pilot Incentives for Summer Food Service Programsby Sarah Simpson
By Danielle Grondin, VISTA Leader
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released a report on the findings from exploratory projects in Arkansas and Mississippi that looked at the effects of offering additional funding and expanding enrichment activities in the afterschool environment. According to the study, these methods increased average participation rates in the summer feeding nutrition assistance program by 35 percent in Arkansas and by 19 percent in Mississippi. The number of sponsors almost tripled in Arkansas—from 110 in 2009 up to 306 in 2010. In order to be eligible for the study, states had to be among the 10 states with the highest rates of childhood food insecurity and the lowest rates of Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) participation.
Arkansas used Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to add a transportation component, allowing adults to eat meals with their children, plus a small per-lunch reimbursement to encourage providers to operate for longer during the summer months. Mississippi awarded mini-grants to multiply recreational and academic opportunities in an attempt to draw children to meal sites. The demonstration comprised arts, sports and tutoring options that showed a generally positive impact on overall participation rates.
"Summer Food Service Programs offer opportunities to continue a child's physical and social development while providing nutritious meals during long vacation periods. It helps children return to school prepared to achieve at their highest academic potential,” said Janey Thornton, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. All the sites studied served low-income areas where the meals are served free of cost to participants. According to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) National Databank, in July 2010 less than 10 percent of children nationwide who qualified for free or reduced-priced meals at school took advantage of SFSP.
Though Mississippi encountered significant difficulties setting up the demonstrations, the average increase in children served per day (18.6 percent) was nearly double that of similar states (9.6 percent). Prior to the project, only 5.1 percent of eligible children in Mississippi received summer nutrition assistance. There were 22 demonstration sites and the study showed that the sites participating were four times more likely to offer recreational activities than non-participating programs. Afterschool and summer learning programs can learn more about the USDA afterschool snack, afterschool meal and summer food service programs here.
Danielle Grondin is working with the Afterschool Alliance as our VISTA Leader. Danielle is coordinating VISTA volunteers placed all over the country who are working with state afterschool networks and local programs on issues of programs sustainability and nutrition.