Strengthening Federally Funded Summer Meal Sites

September 1, 2019, Department, by Kate Clabaugh, MSW

2019 September Advocacy Strengthening Federally Funded Summer Meal Sites 410

Tell Congress not to rain on our congregate parade

Summertime should be fun. Kids should be able to run, play, learn and eat healthy.

The USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) enables youth-serving organizations, like park and recreation agencies, Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs, to invite kids into programs, serve healthy meals and snacks, offer opportunities for summer learning and physical activities, and provide emotional and social support. These congregate sites are the gold standard — keeping kids active, healthy, engaged and safe when their parents are at work. The congregate requirement of SFSP is what makes summer programming possible for low-income children, especially for those whose parents are unable to afford to enroll them in more structured camps.

Congregate sites are available in thousands of urban, suburban and rural communities across the country. For summer 2018, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service estimates that 5,707 SFSP sites identified as park and recreation facilities, with another 5,000 sites identifying as a community center, local government program, playground, swimming pool or nature center. In addition, since 2010, NRPA, in partnership with the Walmart Foundation, has calculated that through the Commit to Health initiative 85 million meals have been served to 4.5 million youth in more than 300 communities.

Child Nutrition Reauthorization
Congress is currently considering the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s school and out-of-school time nutrition programs (i.e., the National School Lunch Program, the Summer Food Service Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program). The debate around potential changes to the SFSP stems from whether we believe the site-based congregate model is addressing childhood hunger in the summer months. But, for so many park and recreation agencies, the summer meal sites are so much more than a meal for the participating children and community.

Healthy Food and Summer Enrichment
A critical part of this nation’s nutritional safety net, the summer meals program combats childhood hunger, which increases for low-income children when they lose access to free school meals. In addition, youth-serving organizations are uniquely positioned to offer educational and enrichment activities to mitigate the harm of the “summer slide” that occurs when children are not attending school or lack learning opportunity during the summer months.

Through healthy meals combined with enrichment activities, NRPA stands with its partners at the YMCA of the USA and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in asking Congress to protect the sites and programs made possible by the current structure and operation of the Summer Food Service Program.

We need your help to strengthen these sites, encourage new sites, and increase participation and number of meals served. Congress can do this by investing in transportation, streamlining administrative paperwork, allowing for an additional meal and aligning site-location eligibility to match that of several federal educational grants. It’s not too late to tell your members of Congress to stop raining on our congregate parade and invest in the site-based model.

Co-Sponsor the Summer Meals Act (S. 1908/H.R. 2818)

The Summer Meals Act of 2019 (S. 1908/H.R. 2818), introduced by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representatives Don Young (R-AK) and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), would increase the reach of the Summer Nutrition Programs. The Summer Nutrition Programs help close the summer nutrition gap and support educational and enrichment programs that keep children learning, engaged and safe when school is out. Ask your members of Congress to co-sponsor the Summer Meals Act to show their support for including these portions of the bill in the final Child Nutrition Reauthorization.

Specifically, this bill includes language that would:

  • Allow local government agencies and private nonprofit organizations to feed children year-round through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). This would relieve the administrative burden on park and recreation agencies from serving meals through the Summer Food Service Program during the summer months and having to switch to the at-risk afterschool meal component of the Child and Adult Care Food Program during the school year. By structuring a year-round program to operate as the SFSP, Congress can also ensure that providers are receiving the higher meal reimbursement rate available in SFSP and the functionality of the SFSP enjoyed by thousands of sites nationwide managed by park and recreation agencies.
  • Provide funding for transportation grants to support innovative solutions to increase access to summer meal sites. With support from the Walmart Foundation, Little Rock Parks and Recreation developed a cross-sector partnership with the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) and Rock Region METRO to launch a citywide transportation initiative, called Be Mighty Metro, for summer 2019. Since June, pass holders have taken more than 12,000 rides on the public transportation system with more than 1,200 individuals registering for bus passes. The number of summer meals served at libraries increased by 46 percent (compared to June 2018) and the CALS summer reading numbers have also grown substantially, from 7,733 youth in 2018 to 13,652 engaged in 2019.

In addition to helping families access summer meals and enrichment activities, there were numerous additional benefits attributed to the program — parents and caregivers could now take the bus to work, to the grocery store, to medical appointments or to parks, splash pads and community events. The program provided huge ($200–$300/month) cost savings to families — money that could be used to purchase healthy foods, school supplies or pay for other family needs. An extra benefit is the role that public transportation plays in environmental sustainability.

  • Allow all sites to serve a third meal. Currently, sites are only allowed to serve up to two meals and a snack per day. Allowing all sites to serve a third meal would enable day-long programs managed by park and recreation agencies to extend their hours for working families, ensure evening programs are feasible, especially those designed for older youth, and relieve the financial burden faced by some agencies that have been serving that additional meal from their own budget.

Visit our Take Action page to find out how you can reach out to your members of Congress.

Kate Clabaugh, MSW, is NRPA’s Director of Government Affairs.