written by Adam Morgan, advocacy coordinator
Health, nutrition and freedom from hunger are basic human rights – especially for children. Understanding and accessing proper nutrition is a key building block for children to make healthy choices as they age, experience better health outcomes, and live a better life.
Food insecurity hurts kids physically, emotionally, and academically. Unhealthy eating habits in children increase the risk of childhood obesity, diabetes, dental cavities, heart disease and high blood pressure. Nutrient deficiencies negatively impact a child’s emotional and cognitive development and ability to concentrate at school. Studying and thriving depends on a healthy diet. Kids living with hunger miss more days of school and exhibit more behavioral problems in the classroom when they are there. Years of missed meals lead to profound consequences that extend far beyond childhood.
Childhood hunger remains a widespread issue across the country. In 2019, more than 68,000 children experienced food insecurity in southwestern Pennsylvania. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Feeding America projects that this number grew to more than 96,000 in 2020. That means one in five children in our region don’t have access to enough food.
Across Pennsylvania, more than 437,000 children are food insecure. School meals typically help them meet their daily nutritional needs as their families may not have enough to eat at home. But school meals only aren’t enough. We must do more to ensure all kids have enough to eat in order to learn and thrive.
Child hunger is serious. But child hunger is also solvable. We can take steps to ensure all children have enough to eat, in and out of school. Recent legislation has made significant investments in nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Pandemic EBT (P-EBT), and financial assistance programs like the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
Lawmakers can and must do more to eliminate child hunger. The Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) process is a great place to start.
What is Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR)?
Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) is the process that Congress uses to update child nutrition programs like summer and afterschool meals; school breakfast and lunch; and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). This process is undertaken typically every five years but Congress has yet to make significant updates since 2010. Although these child nutrition programs continue to operate with or without reauthorization, Congress’ inaction abdicates any chance we have to modernize and improve these vital programs.
Why is CNR important to fighting child hunger?
Child nutrition programs make a significant difference in children’s lives. Take the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Ninety-five percent of schools across America participate in NSLP. Prior to the pandemic, the program provided 22 million students with free or reduced-price lunches on a typical day. This makes NSLP the nation’s second largest food assistance program, behind only SNAP. CNR provides the opportunity to strengthen programs like NSLP, to better serve those millions of children with the freshest and most nutritious food available.
CNR can also help expand anti-hunger efforts to reach kids during out-of-school times when they are harder to reach. For the millions of kids who depend on free or reduced-price school meals during the school year, hunger doesn’t go away when school is out. Before the pandemic, only 17 percent of kids who qualified for school meal assistance accessed a summer meal program. Compared to the 22 million who received school lunch, that means more than 18 million children who relied on meals during the school year were missing out on critical nutrition assistance on a typical summer day.
What are we advocating for in a CNR?
Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is advocating for a variety of program and policy improvements that would expand access to summer feeding programs, school meals and WIC. We urge Congress to:
• Strengthen access to and quality of school meals
• Provide a summer electronic benefits transfer (EBT) grocery card to families with children eligible for free and reduced-price school meals during the summer months and when schools are closed
• Allow kids to consume meals off-site, which would enable communities to adopt innovative program models to reach children who lack access to a summer feeding site
• Streamline regulations for community-based providers so that they can feed children year-round
• Align the area eligibility requirement for summer feeding and educational programs to allow more learning programs to offer meals in the summer
• Increase participation of eligible families in WIC
What can anti-hunger advocates do to ensure lawmakers make additional investments in ending hunger?
We have the power to tell Congress that they must expand and support the Child Nutrition programs. You can contact your Federal Representative and Senators here.