By Nikky Patel, Intern at Kentucky Youth Advocates
In the past year, many Americans have experienced a lack of access to healthy food and, although food insecurity is not a new issue, we have vividly felt its effect throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the federal government and Congressional leaders have been responsive to this issue and continue to apply lessons learned throughout the pandemic to take action that will address hunger and food insecurity in our communities.
Recently, The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced two investment initiatives that will improve access to nutritious food, address racial injustice and inequity, provide ongoing support for producers and workers, and create a more resilient food system:
- An investment of up to $1 billion, including $500 million in American Rescue Plan funding, to support and expand the emergency food network to ensure states, food banks, and local organizations can reliably serve their communities.
- A second investment of $4 billion to strengthen the food system and critical supply chains.
In addition to the USDA recent investments, several bills have been introduced to decrease childhood hunger that Congress is able to take action on. The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act, recently introduced in Congress as a bipartisan effort with support of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, would add flexibility to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, which offers free lunches and snacks to children in the summer. It proposes two options states can utilize including:
- Allowing for meals to be consumed off-site through innovative means like mobile feeding and backpack meal programs, and
- Authorizing the summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program, which would provide eligible families $30 per summer month per child to purchase eligible food items from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) approved retailers. In USDA pilot programs, summer EBT was shown to reduce child hunger by over 30%.
Additionally, in order to ensure that our most vulnerable children are able to access free school meals, The Caregivers Access and Responsible Expansion (CARE) for Kids Act of 2021 has been introduced in Congress to provide automatic eligibility for free school meals to children residing with relatives in informal placements who are not part of the foster care system. For many relatives who are raising children, their income and the definition of “household” for school meal purposes can keep the children from qualifying for free school meals. This program would reduce household food costs to help ease the financial burden on grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other extended family members who have taken on the important responsibility of raising children when their parents are unable to do so. This bill is in support of the pending Child Nutrition Authorization (CNR), which provides an opportunity to improve and strengthen the child nutrition and school meal programs.
We know that access to healthy food is still a topic of concern, but the federal government and elected leaders’ response to the hunger crisis and recent USDA investments will ensure that reliable, nutritious food sources are available to kids and families across Kentucky, reducing child hunger in the Commonwealth.
This post is part of the blog series, Intern Insights.