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Washington, D.C. Still Ranks #1 in Summer Nutrition Participation
Participation Slips from Previous Summer as Recession Reduces Number of Sites
Washington, D.C. – June 29, 2010 – Among all the states, the District of Columbia continues to reach the most low-income children with the Summer Nutrition Programs in July 2009, connecting nearly 80 low-income children with summer meals for every 100 that eat lunch during the regular school year. While D.C. is still ranked first in the nation, D.C. Hunger Solutions notes that participation is starting to slip, falling by five points from the previous July.
The recession devastated the finances of millions of Americans in 2009, and record numbers of families turned to federal nutrition programs for help in feeding their children. But, cuts to summer schools and summer youth programs eroded the number of programs where summer food can be offered, resulting in fewer sites to serve low-income children. In D.C., there were 59 fewer sites that served summer meals last summer compared to 2008.
These findings come from Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation (pdf), an annual analysis by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). The report measures national and state trends for the 50 states and the District in summer nutrition and compares states by determining for each the number of low-income children receiving summer food compared to the number of such children who receive regular school year lunch.
“The fact that participation fell at a time when more families needed the Summer Nutrition Programs is particularly disturbing. We see two negative trends here,” said Alexandra Ashbrook, director of D.C. Hunger Solutions. “The recession increased the overall need for the programs, but recession-driven budget cuts meant that fewer programs were available. In the end, low-income children in the District suffered a double-whammy.”
Ashbrook noted that the District is attempting to reverse the slide and ensure that more low-income children don’t go hungry this summer. D.C. Public Schools are promoting the programs more and attempting to keep more schools open over the summer so they can serve meals. Charter schools also are getting involved in the effort. And the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation continues to play a pivotal role in sponsoring more than 200 sites throughout the District.
“Still, the Summer Nutrition Programs are too fragile and need more federal support,” noted Ashbrook. “While communities can redouble their efforts to ensure that children don’t go hungry, the Summer Nutrition Programs are in trouble and need to be strengthened.”
Congress is currently working on reauthorizing all of the federal child nutrition programs, including the Summer Nutrition Programs, and has proposed a significant increase in funding. D.C. Hunger Solutions joined FRAC in calling on Congress to expand the reach of the Summer Nutrition Programs by:
- Improving the program’s too-narrow area eligibility test so that children from low-income families in a broader range of poor communities are able to participate;
- Expanding to all states a Year-Round Summer Food Pilot, currently only in effect in California, which reduces paperwork and eases administrative requirements for community-based sponsors that serve children during both the summer and after school during the school year;
- Providing grants to sponsors for start-up and expansion costs and transportation of children in order to bring new sponsors into the program and allow existing sponsors to serve more children; and
- Increasing reimbursement rates so that schools, local government agencies, and private nonprofit organizations are able to operate the program without losing money and can provide healthier food.
“Increased funding for child nutrition programs would ensure that more low-income children have access to summer meals that stave off hunger, help reduce obesity, and draw children into educational and enrichment programs that keep them learning throughout the summer,” said Jim Weill, president of FRAC. “Congress must make these programs stronger so we can take a decisive step forward in meeting President Barack Obama’s goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015.”
The Summer Nutrition Programs, which include the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program, should be filling the food gap for low-income children who rely on school breakfast and lunch during the school year to help keep hunger at bay. Through these programs, children (ages 18 and under) can receive free meals at participating summer sites at schools, parks, and nonprofits.
About the report:
Data for Washington, D.C. came from an annual report released by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), a national anti-hunger advocacy and research group. The FRAC report, Hunger Doesn’t Take A Vacation, gives data for all states and looks at national trends. The report measures participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs by comparing the number of children receiving summer meals to the number of children receiving school lunch during the regular school year. FRAC measures national summer participation during the month of July, when typically all children are out of school throughout the month and lose access to regular year school meals.