Summer is finally here. We’ve all made arrangements for child care, summer camps and vacations, but have probably not given much thought about how—or if—we’ll be able to provide enough food for our families during the break from school. In Michigan, though, there were 364,000 children in families who experienced food insecurity over the past year. And, summer time, when kids are not in school and do not have access to free- or reduced-price breakfast and lunch, can really put low-income children at risk for hunger and lack of nutritional foods, which impacts learning and development.
Summer Nutrition Programs can help fill the gap to reduce the risk of hunger for children living in families who are still struggling to make ends meet in this uneven economic recovery. But a new report from the national Food Research & Action Center, Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation, shows that Michigan lost ground last summer.
While the number of sites offering summer meals increased over July 2014 and July 2015, fewer Michigan children received meals. There was a 7% drop in participation and only 12.7 of every 100 children in need received a summer meal. That means that in 2015, almost half a million Michigan kids who were eligible for the free or reduced-price meal program during the school year did not access the summer meals program. Michigan ranked 35th nationally this year in our reach compared to 31st last year in FRAC’s annual summer nutrition status report.
Serving fewer children in need also means that the state is missing out on federal dollars. If Michigan increased its ratio from 12.7 for every 100 children enrolled in the school meal program during the school year to 40, over 151,000 more children would get fed. This would result in an additional $11.97 million in federal reimbursement.
As Congress considers Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation, there are opportunities to include provisions that would help states expand their reach to children at risk of going hungry during the summer. For example, one proposal would allow sponsors of Summer Nutrition Programs to provide meals all year long through one federal program rather than two separate programs for the school year and summer.
Another way to increase participation, especially in rural areas, is by providing Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to purchase food during the summer. A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) demonstration project—which included Michigan—showed significant reductions in food insecurity and positive nutritional outcomes through the use of Summer EBT cards. Michigan has received additional funding to expand the use of Summer EBT cards in Flint and Detroit.
Michigan is only serving meals to one in eight children in need over the summer; roughly 87% of lower-income kids are missing out and going hungry. There are ways to expand our reach—show your support by contacting your Congressional member. The role that hunger and nutrition have in ensuring that kids stay healthy over the summer and return to school ready to learn is critical in so many ways, and we all have to do our part to improve it.
— Alicia Guevara Warren