Congressman Kim Marks Hunger Action Month, Introduces Legislation to Expand Access to Summer Meals

September 29, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Andy Kim (NJ-03) marked the end of summer and the end of Hunger Action Month by introducing the Summer Meals Reaching Every Area’s Child Hunger (Summer Meals REACH) Act.

“Families across the country experienced hunger during the pandemic, some for the first time,” said Congressman Kim. “In my district alone, there are 55,630 people, including 12,100 children, who don’t have enough to eat.  Sadly, we know some servicemembers and their families are among them. Lowering administrative barriers for summer meal programs permanently will help fight summer hunger everywhere, but especially in suburban areas like my district, which often don’t have the high concentration of need to qualify for an ‘open site.’ But we know there are hungry families in all kinds of communities—and these changes will help us reach more of them with nutritious summer meals.”

The Summer Meals REACH Act would make permanent some of the expiring flexibilities in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) that have made meals more accessible to children during the pandemic, including:

  • Eliminating the area eligibility requirement, allowing all sites to serve free meals to all children;
  • Eliminating the congregate feeding requirement, allowing grab-and-go meal service to continue;
  • Modifying the monitoring requirements to allow sponsors to continue to monitor sites remotely, a flexibility that has allowed more community partners, like the Ocean County YMCA, to operate summer meal sites for the first time. 

“Food insecurity is an issue in Toms River that pre-pandemic no one wanted to speak about,” said Gretchen Insole, Interim CEO, Ocean County YMCA. “The pandemic allowed us to not only speak about the issue but gave us the leverage to take action. With the help of the Capital Area YMCA in Trenton and the introduction of federal waivers, the Ocean County YMCA became a summer meals site in Toms River. The federal waivers have expired, and with that so has our ability to serve our community. The measures proposed by Congressman Kim will help support all families in need and allow us to continue our work and the conversation of food insecurity.”

“During the pandemic, YMCAs and other USDA child nutrition program sponsors have risen to meet community need and feed every hungry kid across our diverse neighborhoods,” said Darrin Anderson, CEO of the NJ YMCA State Alliance. “Healthy meals are the foundation for kids to meet their full potential. We welcome Congressman Kim’s solution to codify effective strategies through the Summer Meals REACH Act. Expanding eligibility, allowing sponsors to support sites that are further away, and permitting to-go meals as needed are game changers for addressing summer hunger in communities throughout New Jersey and across the country.”

“This measure will go a long way toward ensuring that children have healthy nutrition all summer long,’’ said Adele LaTourette, Director, Hunger Free New Jersey. “For far too many children, when schools close, hunger sets in. These common-sense flexibilities will make this program so much easier to operate for the many organizations across New Jersey and the nation that want to feed children in the summer.’’

The Summer Meals REACH Act is endorsed by Hunger Free New Jersey and the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance.  

The full text of the bill can be found here.

Congressman Kim has been a leader on hunger issues in Congress, voting to increase SNAP benefits and other programs through the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan to help ensure working families can put food on the table. This summer, he highlighted solutions to address hunger in a week-long tour across Burlington and Ocean Counties. The Congressman is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the House Committee on Small Business. More information about Congressman Kim can be found on his website by clicking here.

Additional background

In Toms River, the Ocean County YMCA operated summer meal sites for the first time ever with the help of new administrative flexibilities in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). About 30 percent of the students in the Toms River Regional School District are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, so the area does not usually qualify for an “open” summer meal site that can offer free meals to all children without the need for enrollment or documentation of family income. During COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) waived certain rules for Summer 2020 and Summer 2021 that allowed the Ocean County YMCA to reach families in need, distributing an average of 1,200 grab-and-go meals weekly. Those waivers expire tomorrow, September 30.

According to the first complete calculation of 2020 hunger released by USDA this month, more than 38 million people in the United States experienced hunger in 2020, a nine percent increase over the 2019 level of 35 million. This includes 11.7 million children who experienced hunger, up from 10.7 million children in 2019. Investments in safety net programs have likely mitigated hunger during the pandemic. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau found lower food insufficiency and financial hardship among households with children immediately after the first round of advance Child Tax Credit (CTC) payments from the American Rescue Plan were disbursed to families in July. Other policies like flexibilities in the National School Lunch Program and SFSP, Pandemic-EBT payments, and increased SNAP benefits have prevented millions of American families from going hungry.

During a typical summer, summer meals reach only about 15 percent of eligible children across the country. Before the pandemic, about 22 million children received free and reduced-price lunch at school, but only 2.7 million received meals during the summer. During Summer 2020, with the help of the new flexibilities, SFSP reached twice as many children (5.6 million) with nearly 10 times as many total meals (1.3 billion meals in 2020, versus 142 million meals in 2019).

According to the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign, in 2020, New Jersey communities served more summer meals than ever before. With heightened awareness of the need to feed children during the pandemic and relaxed federal rules, New Jersey exceeded national benchmarks, reaching 51 percent of low-income children who receive free school lunch. Congressman Kim’s legislation will ensure that communities can continue to make summer food a priority beyond the pandemic.