WASHINGTON — A group of senators is aiming to make summer meal programs throughout the country more flexible for states and families, according to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office.
In most summer meal programs, parents or guardians must bring children to a centralized location — like a school or library during specific times.
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The bipartisan bill — the Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act of 2019 — provides two alternatives for states to utilize, according to a news release.
One option would allow for meals to be consumed off-site through mobile or backpack meal programs.
The second option utilizes the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program providing eligible families with $30 per summer month per child with a maximum of $100 per child per year.
“The summer months should be an opportunity for children to play and learn outside of the classroom. It shouldn’t be a time where they struggle to find their next meal,” McConnell said in a written statement. “The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act would give food banks and other organizations the flexibility they need to reach more kids when they’re not in school.”
McConnell said one in five Kentucky children experience food insecurity.
Republican Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont led the introduction of the bill. Summer meals reach fewer than 20% of the children who participate in similar programs during the school year, according to Boozman.
“The one-size-fits-all approach is not working,” he said. “We need a summer meals program that works for all areas — urban, suburban and rural. Our bill aims to achieve this by giving states the flexibility to choose what makes the most sense in their communities to alleviate summertime hunger for children.”
“Our children are the future,” Leahy said. “In the richest nation in the world, we can and must ensure that children have the food they need to learn and thrive. This bill is an important step in that direction.”
Other supporters of the Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act are Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and Sherrod Brown, and Republican Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith and John Hoeven.