Lawmakers seek to expand student access to food

A bipartisan bill in D.C. could help increase access to food for students during the summer months. 

Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith is an original cosponsor of the Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act of 2019, which give states more options to serve children through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

“Many children count on USDA nutrition programs during the school year, and that need doesn’t stop during summer vacation months.  Rural states like Mississippi could use the greater flexibility offered by this legislation to reach eligible children who can’t get to Summer Food Service Program sites,” Hyde-Smith said.

Under current SFSP rules, children must travel to a central location and eat their meals together.  This requirement can pose challenges for children in predominantly rural areas.

This bill would authorize two alternative options states can utilize to reach more children.  The first would allow meals to be consumed off-site through innovative means like mobile feeding programs and backpack meal programs.  The second option would authorize the summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program.  In USDA pilot programs, summer EBT was shown to reduce child hunger by over 30 percent.

In Mississippi, the SFSP is administered by the Mississippi Department of Education, using schools, communities, and nonprofit organizations to provide meals to children during the summer.

Introduced by Senators John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the measure is also co-sponsored by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and John Hoeven (R-N.D.).  It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, on which Hyde-Smith serves.