USDA summer meal program begins as participation jumps

By Breanne Brammer

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 5, 2014 - The USDA starts its Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) this week with plans to provide meals to millions of low-income children during a period when they don't have access to school breakfasts or lunches.

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“Summertime is the time of year in the U.S. when a child is more likely to experience hunger,” Kevin Concannon, USDA's undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, said earlier this week in a conference call to kick off the program.

Also on the call was Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, which earlier released its Summer Nutrition Status Report for 2014. In the report, USDA was credited with increasing participation in the program, which fed about 3 million children a day last July. Participation jumped by 7 million children last summer, the first increase in 10 years, with higher enrollment in 32 states.

Still, there is much outreach work to be done, the officials said. According to FRAC's report, only one out of seven children who received meals in the School Lunch Program in the 2012-2013 school year also received summer meals. Concannon said we cannot assume children are getting food from another source during the summer.

This summer, six states -- Alabama, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, and Texas - will get extra attention because of high food insecurity levels and low summer meal participation in years past, officials said.

Last summer, the programs, funded with $461 million in the federal budget, reached 15 children out of every 100 who were eligible. This summer, the goal is 40 children out of every 100 in need. Weill said he recognizes the goal is ambitious but he believes it is attainable.

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