The Food Action and Research Center has issued its annual report on low-income children served by federally-subsidized summer meal programs. This one provides figures for 2008.
The report indicates progress if we look only at the number of children served. Nationwide, about 49,000 more children who received free or reduced-priced lunches during the school year also received free meals for at least some part of the summer.
But the recession had significantly increased the number of children receiving free or reduced-price lunches. So the percentage of children served during the summer dropped a bit. And it was already very low–just 17.5% in 2007.
As in 2007, there were wide disparities among states. Ten managed to serve 25% or more, while eleven failed to serve even 10%. The District of Columbia far outranked them all–with a participation rate of 88.8%. But it served nearly 3,000 more children (95.9%) in 2007.
This drop is probably linked to the cutback in summer meal sites–from 404 in 2007 to 329 in 2008. It’s still an impressive number for a community the size of D.C., but it doesn’t augur well for this summer’s program, which has only 236 sites. Sponsors across the country are struggling to cover losses due to inadequate federal reimbursement rates. That could be what’s happening here.
Unemployment rates are expected to remain very high for at least a year after the recession ends. Even when they return to normal, there will still be a huge number of children at risk of hunger during the summer months.
Their health and well-being depends on what the Congress does to address barriers to participation when it reauthorizes the Child Nutrition Act. FRAC’s report includes recommendations to address these and, in other ways, promote expansion.
As of February 2009, nearly 20 million children were receiving free or reduced-price schools lunches. Do we want more than 16.5 million of them to go hungry next summer? That’s what our representatives in Congress have to decide, but I think we can help them make up their minds.