Curious About Child Nutrition Reauthorization? Share Our Strength Presents What You Need to Know

August 27, 2019

Emily Gartenberg, Share Our Strength

Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) provides one of the best federal policy opportunities to address childhood hunger in America. Every five years, Congress reviews the child nutrition programs such as schools meals and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and can change regulations around these programs. Congress is working on CNR this term, which means that we have the opportunity to fundamentally change child nutrition programs for the better.

Currently the Senate Committee on Agriculture has indicated that they are looking to pass a bi-partisan CNR bill. We are encouraged by the strong support for common sense policy solutions to close the summer meals gap with the introduction of the three marker bills aimed at providing more strategies for sponsors and communities to reach more children during the summer months.

This term, Share Our Strength is focused on improving the Summer Food Service Program. During the school year, many families participate in federal nutrition programs like school breakfast, school lunch or afterschool meals. But when schools close for the summer, these programs are no longer available, and this puts a strain on family budgets. When kids don’t get the consistent nutrition they need, it has a long-term impact on their health, development and ability to learn. For example, studies show that hunger is linked to the “summer slide,” while nutritious meals protect against cognitive decline and summer learning loss. When school meals aren’t available, many families are forced to make difficult trade-offs between paying for groceries or paying rent and utility bills. This has long-term consequences for a child’s health, education and well-being.

The good news is that we know how to improve the summer meals program. By enacting common sense policies that streamline program rules between summer and afterschool meals, expanding Summer EBT and providing flexible models to make it easier for summer meal providers to feed kids in hard-to-reach areas, we can close the summer hunger gap and ensure all children have equitable access to nutritious summer meals no matter where they live.

Share Our Strength supports the following policy solutions to help close the summer meal gap:

Permanently authorize the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (Summer EBT). In many communities, the most effective, direct way to reach kids is to provide additional funds for food purchase through an electronic benefit transfer system. The USDA conducted a demonstration project in several states in 2011 and 2012 and found this was an effective tool to reach children, especially in rural communities, and actively reduced very low food security for children by 33%.

Streamline the afterschool and summer meal programs into a single program to strengthen congregate sites. Currently, afterschool meals and summer meals operate as two programs with two sets of rules and regulations, two sets of audits and two sets of staff training. The paperwork, red tape and amount of time spent on doubling this work can act as a deterrent for organizations to act as summer meal sites. Allowing these two programs to operate under one set of rules and regulations would reduce administrative burdens, foster greater efficiency and reach more kids with the food they need.

Provide flexibility around the “congregate feeding” requirement. Many communities need more tools beyond congregate feeding to ensure that kids have access to summer meals. The congregate meal requirement, which requires kids to get to and from summer meal sites each day to consume a meal during a specific timeframe, is a limiting factor of a program that only serves about 16% of eligible kids. Providing flexibility around this regulation would allow providers to drop meals off with low-income families or operate mobile food trucks where kids could pick up a meal and take it home. This innovation will allow the program to better reach low-income kids in rural and other hard-to-reach areas.

As CNR continues to move through the Senate and the House of Representatives, it’s essential for lawmakers to hear your voice. We have resources to make it easy to call and email your representatives, as well as a graphic for social media.