For many Minnesotans, summer is a time for family getaways and relaxation. Unfortunately, one in five children in this nation do not get enough food to eat, and summer vacation can easily become the hungriest time of the year once school meals disappear.
Studies show that average family grocery bills increase by $300 in the summer months, straining most low-income budgets beyond their breaking points. The result is hungry children, and in Minnesota this impacts one in six young people.
In 1968, the federal government implemented the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to replace the school lunches low-income children would miss during the summer months. When it works, it’s a lifeline for kids in need. Unfortunately, the program doesn’t work effectively throughout much of our state. Nationally, more than 22 million children from low-income families eat school lunches every day, yet only 4 million of these kids are getting the summer meals they need. That’s five out of six kids who aren’t getting the meals they need in the summer months.
A new piece of legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Senate that has the opportunity to serve an additional 6.5 million children across the country. The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act is a bipartisan bill that has the support of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. This bill give states more options to reach hungry kids, especially in hard-to-reach regions, like rural areas or communities currently ineligible to host summer sites. Proven options like meal delivery or a monthly grocery credit would allow states to reach more children.
Despite the prevalence of child hunger in Minnesota and the nation at large, it is a problem with real solutions. One-size-fits-all programs like the summer meals program do not work, and our neediest children are left to pay the price. To be effective, summer nutrition programs must allow communities the flexibility to make adaptations based on their specific needs. Politicians, community leaders, educators and parents need to band together to generate the practical solutions to ensure that every child gets enough healthy food to eat every day.
From retirement from the Senate to retirement from the University of St. Thomas last year, I served on numerous health commissions and boards and chaired the National Institute of Health Policy. That experience has highlighted the importance of a healthy body, and the unfortunate costs of failing to protect public health. Childhood malnutrition contributes to physical, mental and intellectual setbacks.
By standing together and making childhood nutrition a priority, we can put a stop to summertime hunger and the underlying health problems associated with prolonged food insecurity.
This fall, Congress will reauthorize the law governing childhood nutrition programs, including the summer meals program. The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act is the first step, but it needs the support of all U.S. senators and action in the House to truly make a difference. I urge all Minnesotans and state policymakers to raise their voices and demand action on child hunger.
David Durenberger is a former U.S. senator from Minnesota.