Advocating for Hungry Children

Elani and at Sierra Point 16-0707 (5)The Food Bank recently welcomed Eleni Towns, a policy analyst for Feeding America. Feeding America is interested in visiting summer programs in order to discover innovations to share with the larger network. The Food Bank stood out due to our plan of expanding summer feeding, especially through mobile delivery. To help food relief agencies feed more hungry children in the summer, Eleni is working diligently with Congress to improve the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill (CNR) which is currently pending in Congress. Please remain attentive to our advocacy alerts regarding the CNR and make your thoughts known to legislators.

Many obstacles exist to feeding students in the summer. For instance, how can we serve students whose parents leave for work early, with children often needing to walk by themselves or through dangerous neighborhoods to a summer feeding site? Or similarly, how can rural children overcome great distances to participate in the nearest serving location?

Summer Feeding programs across the country face daunting challenges. So much so, that when Congress asked food relief professionals where they would like to focus for the new CNR, the overwhelming reply was summer feeding.

During the school year, many students who are food insecure receive food through free and reduced meal programs. These programs are effective at providing food for hungry students. However, the logistics of summer feeding programs when most children are not at centralized locations and transportation needs are often an issue poses significant obstacles to getting food where it is needed.

There are several ways that leaders in the field would like to encourage Congress to improve Summer Feeding Programs. Here are some points to keep in mind as you contact your legislators.

First, Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards provide an additional benefit during the summer months that has already been successfully demonstrated in multiple pilot locations. Testing in both SNAP and WIC programs has shown that child food insecurity can decrease as much as 1/3 with nutritional gains that follow. EBT cards are validating that when resources are available to families, they often make healthier choices.

Next, congregate feeding is a current legislative requirement that stipulates children must eat at a location with others. In other words, caregivers cannot pick up food and take it home. This creates obstacles for rural programs where distances to feeding sites can be prohibitive. There are also heat and safety concerns for children of working parents. Should young children walk to a feeding site, cross busy streets, travel through dangerous neighborhoods? We hope the updated CNR will have the ability to develop alternative delivery methods for multiple needs and unique circumstances.

Finally, there are two main programs set up to help feed children, summer programs and school programs. This creates a confusing set of competing rules and regulations as well as a doubling of applications processes and administration. Food banks and others hope Congress will streamline this process, by stopping and restarting to follow one all-encompassing program.

Congress has not fully updated the summer meals program since it was enacted more than forty years ago, and it only reaches a fraction (less than 18 percent) of kids in need. While a critical support for millions of children, the program can and should do more to curb child hunger each summer.

Currently, the Senate is working on a bill that has broad bi-partisan support in both the private and public sector. The House is trying to pass a highly partisan bill that we project will have negative effects for the one out of every four food insecure children in Oklahoma.

To get a good bill through Congress, advocates can push for three goals. First, highlight the need for critical increases to access of summer meals. Next, citizens should put pressure on Congress to come together around an effective bipartisan bill. Finally, we can push back against harmful policies and educate the importance of this bill among Congressional leadership and members.

Take a look at the advocacy page of our website, and please keep apprised of advocacy alerts from the Oklahoma Food Banks. We need Congress to pass a good bill this year and your voice can be persuasive. This reauthorization holds an important opportunity to make small but critical improvements to the child nutrition programs, in particular summer meals, afterschool programs, WIC, farm to school, school equipment grants, and more. We know that your input to legislators makes a difference. Stay informed and let your voice be heard on behalf of those who need our help.