Obama calls for permanent, expanded summer feeding program

By Whitney Forman-Cook

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2016 - Every low-income kid who gets free or reduced-price meals at school would get federal money for eating during the summer, too, under a proposal that President Obama will include in his fiscal 2017 budget due out next month.

The budget will call for spending $12 billion over 10 years to provide the aid through the use of EBT cards, which are now used for delivering food stamp benefits, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced during a White House summit on child hunger Wednesday.

Lets Talk Food The proposal comes as the Senate is moving a child nutrition reauthorization bill that contains a  more modest expansion of federally funded summer feeding programs. The bill would authorize states to allow use of the EBT cards to reach kids the program may not be benefiting now. 

The bill came out of the Senate Agriculture Committee last week with unanimous support, and Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, told reporters Wednesday that he may try to pass it on the Senate floor with unanimous consent. 

Vilsack said the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children program would provide supplemental food benefits to children in low-income families via EBT - electronic debit - cards during the summer months when they don't have access to school-provided meals.

Currently, almost 22 million children receive free and reduced-price school meals during the school year, but only a small fraction of those students have access to free or reduced meals during the summer.

“We think the time has come to commit as a country to … making sure that not 3.8 million youngsters have access to summer meals, not 5 million, not 7 million, not 12 million, but all 21 million kids that are currently free and reduced, have access,” Vilsack said.  

“We believe over the course of the next several years that we can gradually increase the number of youngsters and families that are covered by this (summer feeding) program, so that at the end of the 10-year period, 100 percent of kids will have access to either a (summer feeding site) or to an EBT card that their parents can use to provide additional resources.”

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Vilsack also announced his department would allow state agencies that administer the National School Lunch Program to use Medicaid data to certify students for free and reduced priced lunches.

This “automatic link” will allow eligible students to enroll in free and reduced meals with less paperwork for the state, schools and families, USDA says. The department plans to allow five states to begin implementing direct certification using Medicaid data during the 2016-17 school year. Over the next three school years, USDA expects to enroll 20 states in the pilot project.

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