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Child nutrition reauthorization bill would significantly increase access to summer meals

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Child nutrition reauthorization bill would significantly increase access to summer meals

On July 20, House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee Chair Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon) introduced the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act, a comprehensive, evidence-driven reauthorization of federal child nutrition programs that meets the needs of children and families. Included as part of the legislation are provisions from the bipartisan, bicameral Summer Meals Act which will increase access to summer meals for millions of additional students in need. 

The Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act takes a comprehensive approach to address food insecurity felt by children and families – increasing access to nutritious meals during the school day as well as in out of school time and for young children in child care settings. Specifically, the legislation (summary; text) will:

  • Expand access to school meals,
  • Preserve the future of school meal programs,
  • Modernize the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC),
  • Address food insecurity during the summer,
  • Improve school meal capacity and sustainability, and 
  • Strengthen the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

From an out of school time perspective, the bill includes the following provisions, many of which were included in the Summer Meals Act, led by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Lisa Murkowski and in the House by Rep. Rick Larsen and the late Congressman Don Young:

  • Reduces the area eligibility threshold for participation in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) from 50 to 40 percent of the children residing in the area who have been determined to be eligible for free or reduced-price meals. This will allow more providers to participate in the SFSP and importantly makes eligibility for SFSP consistent with eligibility for 21st Century Community Learning Center funding that supports summer and afterschool programs.
  • Authorizes the Seamless Summer Option that allows schools operating the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) to continue under that program for summer meals.
  • Creates an option for year-round meal service under SFSP for community-based non-profit/non-school meal providers so that providers do not have to operate two separate programs over the course of the year to be able to serve afterschool meals and snacks during the school year and summer meals and snacks when the school year ends.
  • Authorizes a competitive grant program to increase participation in SFSP at feeding sites through innovative approaches including transportation and mobile meal delivery and authorizes $10,000,000 each fiscal year for these grants. Rural summer programs have struggled with providing transportation to sites and these grants will help increase access to programs and meals in communities nationwide.
  • Allows programs that participate in SFSP to serve up to three meals, or two meals and one snack per child per day instead of the current limit of two meals. Summer providers operating programs for 8 hours per day have long called for the flexibility to provide a third meal. This provision will ensure students in programs all day have the nutrition they need to fully participate in engaging programming.
  • Requires updated nutrition standards for SFSP and specifies that outreach materials for SFSP be culturally and linguistically appropriate. Nutrition standards for summer meals were last updated in 2020 and changes would ensure summer meals are nutritionally consistent with afterschool meals and school lunches which recently went through meal standard updates.
  • Authorizes the SFSP through FY 2028
  • Creates an Advisory Committee on Paperwork Reduction to review federal child nutrition programs – membership of which includes a representative of an afterschool program
  • Expands the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program to ensure eligible families with students without access to a summer programs that serves meals have the ability to access healthy foods during the summer months
  • Creates a tribally operated meal and snack pilot program that includes lunch, breakfast and summer meals.

The Afterschool Alliance is supportive of these out-of-school time provisions and has worked for nearly a decade alongside the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), the Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), the YMCA of the USA, and the National Park and Recreation Association and others, in support of the Summer Meals Act. These provisions address barriers to the meal programs that were identified by local afterschool and summer learning providers and, if enacted, the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act should help eliminate many of the administrative challenges providers face in operating summer and afterschool meal programs.  

The Committee on Education and Labor plans to markup the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act on Wednesday, July 27 at 10:15 AM EST and can be watched through a livestream. The Senate Agriculture Committee has not yet released a child nutrition reauthorization bill. 

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