The Obama administration has unveiled new actions it says will ensure that low-income children who are at higher risk of food insecurity and poor nutrition get the food they need to grow, learn and succeed in America.
Each year nearly 22 million low-income children in the U.S. get free or reduced-price meals at school. For many of them, that is the best and sometimes the only meal they will get. Only a fraction of those children get the food benefit when school is out of session during the summer months.
On Wednesday, the Obama administration announced its 2017 budget will include $12 billion over 10 years to help reduce child hunger year round.
The plan includes the establishment of a permanent Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (EBT) program. It will provide supplemental food benefits during the summer months to low-income children who qualify for free or reduced price school meals.
The Summer EBT benefits will be provided on an electronic debit card that can only be used for food at the grocery store, filling the “food budget gap in the summer,” according to the White House.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted Summer EBT pilot programs that it found “significantly reduce food insecurity among children,” said the administration.
The budget item would have to be approved by the Republican-led Congress, which has pushed to cede more authority to states to combat poverty and hunger. Republican leaders also have argued that federal assistance programs are fraught with waste and fraud.
Also Wednesday, the Agriculture Department unveiled a pilot program to help more low-income children access meals through the National School Lunch Program. It calls for allowing states to use Medicaid information to automatically link low-income children to school lunch programs, making the process of certifying students for the nutritional programs far less cumbersome.
The White House also said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has played a key role in reducing poverty and food insecurity among low-income families.
“SNAP and other nutrition programs, like school meals, make a real and measurable difference in the lives of children and their families, and provide a stronger future for the entire country," said the White House.
During a panel discussion Wednesday on reducing child hunger, Dr. Adam Drewnowski, head of the University of Washington’s Nutritional Sciences Program, said low-income families often must eat cheaper, less nutritious foods.
“First of all you have overt hurt, but you also have a more persistent and chronic hidden hunger with the lower-income groups really deficient in some nutrients,” he said.
“SNAP and modest increases in food assistance will nudge the population a bit more away from the energy dense foods which are nutrient poor toward more foods of higher nutritional value,” Drewnowski added.