Last summer saw the first major improvement in 10 years in America’s efforts to provide summer meals to low-income kids who lose their primary nutrition source when the schoolyear ends. But that best-in-a-decade performance still failed to reach 85 percent of children who rely on school meals, according to a new report.
The Summer Nutrition Programs provided lunch to about 3 million children per day last July, according to the Food Research and Action Center’s (FRAC) newly-released evaluation of the program’s performance in 2013. That means 161,000 more of the neediest kids in the country got summer food from the program last year than in 2012, for an increase of 5.7 percent. FRAC notes that it is “the first major increase in the number of low-income children eating summer meals in 10 years.”
But for every 100 low-income schoolkids who received free or reduced-price lunch during the academic year, just 15.1 took advantage of the summer programs. Again, that ratio is an improvement over 2012, when just 14.3 out of 100 eligible kids got summer meals. FRAC cautions that the increased ratio comes in part from a reduction in the number of kids who participated in lunch programs during the school year.
The increase was much smaller in August (117,000), and the June number actually fell by 279,000 from 2012 to 2013. Performance varied widely between states, with the eight best-performing states managing to reach at least one in five of their children who are at elevated risk of summer hunger. But 11 states reached fewer than 10 percent of those children, and a full 19 states saw participation rates fall from 2012 to 2013.
An alarming number of children live in food-insecure households, which is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s designation for a household that struggles to consistently provide adequate nutrition throughout the year. More than one in five kids face food insecurity, according to the most recent statistics.
One proposal to improve the nation’s summer hunger response comes from Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who wants to provide a direct cash benefit in the summer to families with children who get free and reduced-price school lunches. That proposal, which won praise from anti-hunger activists as ThinkProgress previously reported, would expand a pilot program that Republican appropriations lawmakers are attempting to restrict to only rural areas.