Testimony at Hearing on LD 1353: An Act to Further Reduce Student Hunger

Over 80,000 kids in Maine do not get enough to eat. During the school year, the National School Lunch program, which has been around since the 1940s, helps fill empty stomachs. Yet when the school year ends, many of these kids go without. The same federal program also provides meals for kids during the summer, but MECEP estimates that in 2012 only about 16% of meal-eligible students were fed during the summer due to a shortage of distribution sites.

LD 1353 would require public schools to operate a summer food program in which at least 50% of students qualified for a free or reduced-price lunch during the preceding school year and where academic or recreational summer programming exists for their children. In Maine, more than half of our public schools meets the criterion for having at least 50% qualifying students. One in seven schools has 70% or higher eligibility rates, including a few that reach 100%.

Just as with the school lunch program, the federal government pays for the summer food program. In 2011, USDA reimbursed Maine summer food sponsors $1.11 million. If Maine increased its summer food participation rate to match its school-year rate of eligible children receiving subsidized meals (about 80% or almost 70,000 kids), it could receive as much as $6.84 million in additional funding for about 30 summer food days. If Maine extended the summer food program to five days a week and 50 summer days, the amount of USDA reimbursement could increase to $11 million.  And because the USDA does not cap its reimbursement, Maine could potentially feed every eligible hungry child during the summer.

Given the recession’s indiscriminate impact on Maine children and families, it is imperative that policymakers, schools, and local communities take full advantage of federal resources to ensure that no child goes hungry just because school is no longer in session.

LD 1353 is a solid step in that direction and MECEP urges your support.

I am providing with this testimony MECEP’s 2011 analysis of the effectiveness of the summer school program in Maine, “Child Hunger Doesn’t End with the School Year,” November 2011.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I am happy to answer any additional questions you might have.

Jody Harris, MECEP Policy Analyst, testifying before the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs in support of LD 1353.