This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
Summer is fast approaching, and for too many children that means not only a break from schoolwork but also from regular meals.
When school lets out, thousands of Pierce County children who qualify for free or reduced-cost breakfasts and lunch will miss out out on what for many of them may be the most nutritious meals they get.
Some places they hang out at will provide some food. But many such sites find the federal red tape so overwhelming that they’re discouraged from providing subsidized summer meals even though they’d be the ideal places to offer them.
Streamlining the application process for obtaining funding for summer meals is one goal for anti-hunger advocates as they work toward congressional re-authorization and updating of the federal Child Nutrition Act in coming weeks. It’s a goal the state’s delegation should support.
The legislation provides funding for school breakfasts and lunches, after-school snacks, child and adult care facilities, summer feeding programs and WIC (Women, Infants and Children).
In Pierce County, the need is reflected in the numbers. During the school year, approximately 54,000 children qualify for free or reduced-price meals – about 43 percent of the county’s children. They are fed at 229 schools, but over the summer, only 97 of those schools offer some kind of feeding programs. The Emergency Food Network estimates that those programs are reaching only about 8 percent of the children who need supplemental food during the summer.
Anti-hunger organizations like EFN see a real need for a $1 billion annual increase in funding for childhood nutrition programs from the current level of $22 billion a year. That would allow higher-quality food to be bought and make it possible to serve more children on weekends and during the summer.
Society as a whole has a stake in childhood nutrition programs. Children who aren’t hungry are more likely to focus on their schoolwork and not be disruptive – which means teachers can devote more time to academics and less to dealing with behavioral problems.
And providing healthy food is a strategy in fighting childhood obesity – which is epidemic in America. Low-income children are more at risk for being obese or overweight than middle- or high-income children because cheap food is often more fattening. Giving them more access to healthy meals will make them less likely to fill up on the junk food that makes them fat but doesn’t meet their nutritional needs.
Getting kids ready to learn – and healthier to boot – is a worthy goal Congress must consider when reauthorizing funding for childhood nutrition programs.