JAMESTOWN – Standing at the Winifred Crawford Dibert Boys & Girls Club of Jamestown, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced the bipartisan Summer Meals Act, which would enhance the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Summer Food Service Program. Gillibrand was joined by Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan, Assemblyman Andy Goodell, Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Jeff Kroon and Jamestown parent Tracy Peterson.
The legislation would help improve nutrition and enhance learning in underserved areas by better integrating summer education and meals programs, making it easier for public-private partner organizations to participate in the summer meals program, and by providing a third meal for children who attend evening enrichment programs.
“Many children receive their only meal at school during the year, and when school is out for the summer, they go hungry,” said Senator Gillibrand, first New York Senator to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years. “The bipartisan Summer Meals Act would help combat this problem by strengthening the USDA summer nutrition program to help more children across America access quality meals during the summer months. Every child who is hungry should have food year round.”
“Throughout the summer we serve lunch and snack to between 125 and 150 kids every day,” said Jeffrey Kroon, Executive Director of the Winifred Crawford Dibert Boys and Girls Club of Jamestown. “Access to these nutritious options for meals and snacks are essential to the health of our kids. The summer is clearly the most active season for our kids, so these meals and snacks serve as fuel for the engine.”
“When this school year ended, over 1.5 million low-income children throughout New York lost access to school meals, an increase of nearly 38,000 students from the previous school year who qualified for a free or reduced-price school meal,” said Linda Bopp, Executive Director of Hunger Solutions New York. “This bi-partisan bill will increase access to summer nutrition for low-income kids and teens while effectively addressing hunger and meeting increased need. It is in our best interest to ensure that these children have adequate nutrition during the summer so they stay healthy, active and return to school in the fall ready to learn.”
Across the country, 31 million students participate in the national school lunch program, and 22 million students receive free or reduced school lunch – meaning their families lives at or near the poverty line – but only one in seven of these high need children have access to summer meals. In New York, there are more than 1.7 million children who receive free or reduced school lunch, but only 27 percent have access to summer meals.
On a typical school day in Western New York there were 79,689 students who ate a free or reduced priced school lunch compared to the 17, 091 students who had lunch during the summer. In Chautauqua County there were 8,838 students receiving lunch but only 756 children participating in the summer lunch program. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would expand eligibility to an additional 10 schools in Chautauqua County alone.
The Summer Meals Act would help more children access healthy food by lowering the threshold to allow areas with 40 percent or more of students receiving free or reduced lunch to be eligible for the program. Currently the bar is set at 50 percent. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would expand eligibility to 3.2 million children.
This legislation would also reduce the paperwork burden for private-public partnerships who want to participate in the program, provide children with transportation to the summer meals sites, and would also offer an additional meal to children who attend evening programs.
The USDA Summer Food Service Program provides low-income children under age 18, who would normally receive free or reduced school lunch, with quality, nutritious food during the summer. Several programs run in tandem with educational enrichment programs to keep children engaged and safe during the summer months. Currently, there are 45 national organizations that have endorsed the Summer Meals Act legislation.