For the first time in my career as an advocate for children, we are on the cusp of seeing a momentous push that could end hunger by 2030.
That may sound like a lofty goal, but we have evidence that with the right policies in place it’s achievable.
During the pandemic, emergency aid programs effectively ensured children and families had access to consistent healthy meals, healthcare and housing. As a result, in Florida and across the nation, child poverty rates sunk to the lowest levels in modern history. This was directly linked to programs ranging from monthly checks for parents to increased grocery assistance. But these provisions have expired or are expiring in the near future.
The loss of all that extra assistance at the same time that families are paying historically high rates from food, fuel and rent threatens to send child poverty and hunger soaring once again. We must not let that happen.
That’s why No Kid Hungry brought a set of policies to the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, Hunger and Health this month.
The last summit like this in 1969 led to the creation of programs like free school meal programs and supplemental food assistance for women and children — initiatives that became cornerstones in the fight against poverty and hunger.
But it’s well past time we modernize those anti-hunger and poverty programs to keep up with the times.
No Kid Hungry has put forth a slate of policy recommendations that stand to make a big difference for kids in Florida.
Because kids rely on school breakfast and lunch for so much of their daily nutrition, school meal programs are a natural place to start. While the pandemic-era waiver that allowed all students to eat for free expired in June, many Florida school districts have successfully adopted the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), allowing them to continue to serve free meals to all students who need them. Our recommendations make it easier for more schools to adopt CEP, ensuring all kids have access to the nutrition they need to succeed, while streamlining meal service and removing the stigma too often associated with school meals.
Next up is summertime, which for far too many kids is the hungriest time of the year. I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback surrounding the dynamic changes made to the summer meal programs over the past three years. Most notably the flexibility of local organizations to serve meals in the way that makes the most sense for their community. In some rural areas, that might mean school buses loaded with food delivered directly to the neighborhoods, while other parts of the state saw huge benefits to being able to offer children meals for the whole week - saving parents time and fuel.
These innovations allowed summer meals to reach more than 200% more children, and they need to continue.
Another successful solution was Summer EBT, which provides families with children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals with a grocery benefit during the summer months to make up for the meals they’d otherwise be eating at school. This program should be permanent, modernized and streamlined to be used with today’s technology.
Finally, No Kid Hungry is advocating for the modernization of two of the most effective food benefits: SNAP and WIC, which provide families money for groceries so they can prepare nutritious meals at home. More than 3.4 million Floridians rely on SNAP. But as helpful as these programs are, they are trapped in a different era. The strict income cut-offs leave out far too many families struggling to make ends meet, and the benefits themselves haven’t kept up with the rising cost of food. We should expand access to these programs and increase benefits to reflect what it costs to feed a family. And we should make it easier for families to use WIC and SNAP to buy groceries online like every other American.
Today we are at a critical juncture where we can continue the progress we’ve made, or risk failing our youngest generation. Let’s build on the lessons learned and continue to innovate and modernize our programs to move toward No Kid Hungry in 2030.