Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), a member of the Senate Education Committee, co-sponsored the Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act, bipartisan legislation that would 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. The bill would apply lessons learned from the pandemic to existing child nutrition programs to make them more efficient, flexible, and better equipped to reach children in need during the summer months.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of school meals for many families. Across the country, schools have done a tremendous job working to support the nutritional needs of students despite the challenges of remote and hybrid learning models during the pandemic,” said Senator Collins. “As we emerge from this public health crisis, it is crucial that children are able to continue enjoying nutritious meals and establish healthy eating habits not only during the school year, but in the summer as well. This bill would strengthen these summer meal programs, making them more efficient and flexible for families across Maine.”
The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act gives states additional options to reach hungry children in communities without a centralized meal site during the summer, some of which mirror authorities Congress established to help the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) carry out this mission while students received instruction virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Current summer meals 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 meals to be consumed 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 was shown to reduce child hunger by over 30 percent.
The legislation has the support of leading national advocacy groups including 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.
In addition to Senator Collins, the legislation was introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Boozman (R-AR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), John Cornyn (R-TX), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), John Hoeven (R-ND), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Roger Marshall (R-KS), and John Thune (R-SD).
The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act would build on Senator Collins’ efforts to increase access to free and reduced-price school lunch programs for students. Last year, Senator Collins repeatedly urged USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to expand school meal flexibility waivers for students throughout the pandemic. In March, Senator Collins introduced the School Food Modernization Act, a bipartisan bill to help schools provide healthier meals to students across the country by authorizing a grant, loan guarantee, and technical assistance program.