Federal school lunch programs feed 31 million children in the United States during the regular school year. But during summer vacation only one in six of these children will receive free or reduced-priced lunches through government-subsidized programs. Many end up going hungry. Others turn to the kind of cheap, fattening, unhealthy food that contributes to America’s childhood obesity epidemic.
Melissa Boteach and Sophie Milam argue that our nation needs effective, wide-reaching programs to deliver nutritious, subsidized food to low-income children during the summer months. They maintain that dedicating funds to programs designed to feed needy children in summer can help us both tackle childhood obesity (an issue that First Lady Michelle Obama has taken on) and the summer achievement gap, which refers to the fact that children from wealthier backgrounds are much more likely to spend their summer in academically enriching programs than their poorer peers, who are often left at home while their parents work, with no safe place to play or learn.
Effective summer feeding programs already exist—the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program provide federally subsidized food and educational programs to lower-income children during their summer vacations. But these programs are currently spread thin and many children have little or no access to them.
Congress should invest additional resources for site expansion and retention as it reauthorizes federal child nutrition programs this year, so that more children have access to the summer feeding programs. And it should provide transportation assistance to better connect children to existing program sites. It should also reduce the area eligibility threshold from 50 percent to 40 percent so low-income children in more areas have access to programs.
Let’s make feeding children a priority year-round rather than for only nine months out of the year.