New FRAC Report Finds Summer Meals Continue to Fall Short

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Slight One Year Increase in Participation Not Enough to Make Up for Years of Declines

Despite a slight increase in the number of low-income children eating summer meals in July 2012, the nation’s Summer Nutrition Programs continue to fall far short of their goal to curb summer hunger. Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation, an analysis by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), found that for every seven low-income students who depended on the National School Lunch Program during the regular 2011-2012 school year, only one child received summer meals in July 2012.

2012 did mark the first increase in summer food participation since 2008, serving lunch to 2.8 million children on an average July weekday. The increase was small: 13,000 more children participated in July 2012 than in July 2011, and not enough to reverse three years of declining participation. By 2012, 99,000 fewer children were participating in the Summer Nutrition Programs than in 2008.

“This bump-up in summer food participation is encouraging, but it’s not enough,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “Participation in virtually every other federal nutrition program, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and school meals, has grown significantly in recent years to meet the increased need for help created by the economy. We know that children are hungrier and eating less healthily in the summer. They are paying a large price for missed summer meals.”

To measure the reach of the Summer Nutrition Programs, FRAC compares participation in these programs against the National School Lunch Program. Using this measure, only 14.3 children received summer meals for every 100 low-income students who received lunch in the 2011-2012 school year, a decrease from the previous year’s ratio and another bad year in the significant long-term drop from its peak of 22:100 children in July 1998.

Low participation means missed meals for children and missed dollars for states. If every state in July 2012 had reached the goal of feeding 40 children Summer Nutrition for every 100 receiving free and reduced-price lunches during the 2011-2012 school year, an additional five million children would have been fed each day, and states would have collected an additional $352 million in child nutrition funding in July alone.

State trends in the program were mixed: with 26 states experiencing increases in participation and 25 states dropping in participation. Indiana had the largest participation increase, growing by 28.2 percent and improving in rank from 34th to 20th, followed by Oklahoma (26.1 percent), while Hawaii (-43.0 percent) and Missouri (-34.3 percent) had the biggest drops.

There are clear paths to assuring that children can have adequate nutrition during the summer so they stay healthy and are ready to learn. First and foremost is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s continued focus on the Summer Nutrition Programs – FRAC applauds its Summer Food Awareness Week (June 10 to 15, 2013) and related efforts to raise awareness of the program, as well as its work to reduce administrative barriers to make it easier for sites and sponsors to participate. Such actions will move the programs in the right direction and should be increased.

“USDA is providing strong leadership with its emphasis on improving summer meals, but Congress will need to fix some of the underlying problems in the programs in the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization to truly repair the Summer Nutrition Programs,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “Congress must take a fresh look at the Summer Nutrition Programs and consider ways to improve this faltering program so it more effectively addresses hunger and obesity.”

Children also go hungry in the summer because SNAP benefit allotments are not adequate to support a healthy, month-long diet, as the recent Institute of Medicine report analyzed. FRAC reiterated its opposition to SNAP cuts being considered by Congress that will only make matters worse.

An additional summer problem is the shrinking number of summer schools and community-based programs, so fewer children are in supportive venues where good nutrition can be served. For example, Congress cut the 21st Century Community Learning Center afterschool and summer program by six percent from FY 2011 to FY 2013, and the House Republican budget for FY 2014 would cut the program by 19 percent more.

The Summer Nutrition Programs, which include the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program, should be filling the summer food gap for low-income children who rely on school breakfast and lunch during the school year to help keep hunger at bay. Through these programs, children (ages 18 and under) can receive free meals at participating summer sites at schools, parks, other public agencies, and nonprofits.

About the report: The Food Research and Action Center’s annual summer report, Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation, gives data for all states and looks at national trends. The report measures participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs by comparing the number of children receiving summer meals to the number of children receiving school lunch during the regular school year. FRAC measures national summer participation during the month of July, when typically all children are out of school throughout the month and lose access to regular year school meals. The report is available online at

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The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) is the lead advocacy organization working to end hunger in America through stronger public policies. For more information, visit Find us on Facebook at or follow us on Twitter at

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Jennifer Adach
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