Summer Meals Participation Declined in 2009

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Only about one in six of the children who regularly receive free or reduced-price lunch during the school year received lunch through feeding programs last summer and the numbers may be even lower this summer, according to the group that monitors summer feeding programs.

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) said state and local budget cuts have reduced summer school sessions and other summer programs at which children are able to get healthy meals through either the National School Lunch Program or the Summer Food Service Program. In 2009, about 2.8 million children a day received meals through the programs, a decline of 78,000 children or about 2.5 percent from the summer of 2008.

“The limited reach of the Summer Nutrition Programs meant that for the majority of these children, the end of the school year meant … struggling to avoid going hungry,” FRAC said in a new report entitled Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation issued this week. The release of the report comes as the House Education and Labor Committee meets Thursday to consider the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act introduced earlier this month, which would improve food programs in schools and other child care settings.

 The FRAC report states that steady decreases have been noted each year in participation of children in the summer feeding programs, worrying researchers that this year, conditions for the nearly 17.5 million students dependent on these programs will worsen. In contrast, the 2001 summer programs fed one of every five children who received lunch during the school year.

West Virginia and the District of Columbia were singled out as two jurisdictions that beat 2009’s plummet by recruiting religious and other organizations for meal assistance. The District was able to provide meals to 80 percent of eligible children. In contrast, California – where the state has been fighting off bankruptcy for two years – turned away nearly 78,000 children last year.

FRAC is asking Congress to expand the reach of Summer Nutrition Programs by creating year-round plans and increasing funding.

“Congress must make these programs stronger so we can take a decisive step forward in meeting President Barack Obama’s goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015,” said Jim Weill, FRAC president.