Bennet, Bipartisan Colleagues Introduce Bill to Make Summer Meal Programs More Flexible

The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act Takes Lessons Learned from the Pandemic, Helps Families Access Nutritious Meals Year Round

Denver Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act. This legislation will add flexibility to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which offers children free lunch and snacks in the summer.  

This proposal would modify existing child nutrition programs to make them more efficient, flexible, and better equipped to reach children in need during the summer months. The bill would also give states additional options to reach hungry children in communities without a centralized feeding site during the summer, some of which mirror authorities Congress established during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic to help the USDA carry out this mission while students received instruction virtually. 

“This pandemic made clear we are doing too little to provide a basic safety net for the millions of struggling families across the country,” said Bennet. “As a former school superintendent, I've seen firsthand the effect an empty stomach can have on a kid's ability to learn and succeed in school. Adding flexibility to summer meal programs will help families access fresh, healthy meals even when kids are out of school. No kid should go hungry, especially in the wealthiest country in the world.”

Current summer meal regulations require children to travel to a central location and eat together. This works well in some communities. However, in rural areas, it can be difficult for children to reach a site, if one even exists. In suburban and urban areas, inclement weather or violence can keep children from these sites and cause them to miss meals. 

The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act proposes two alternative options states can utilize through the program. The first would allow for children to eat meals off-site through innovative means like mobile feeding and backpack meal programs. The other option would authorize the summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program which would provide eligible families $30 per summer month per child to purchase eligible food items from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) approved retailers. In USDA pilot programs, summer EBT reduced child hunger by over 30%. 

Similar steps taken during the pandemic to reduce exposure risks for COVID-19 helped maximize participation. For instance, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act authorized nationwide waivers allowing off-site meal distribution to a parent or guardian to take home to their children. Additionally, the Pandemic EBT program is essentially the same approach this bill proposes for families to use during the summer.

After the start of the pandemic in April 2020, Bennet and U.S. Representative Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) called for a 15% increase to SNAP to help families put food on the table during this crisis. Their proposal was included in the COVID-19 relief package signed into law in December.

In addition to Bennet, this legislation is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-Ark.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and John Thune (R-S.D.).

The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act is supported by: Feeding America, Share Our Strength, Tusk Philanthropies, Bread for the World, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, the Alliance to End Hunger and Save the Children.