Last week, I outlined our top priorities for the upcoming year — and we are getting to work immediately on one of them: renewing and expanding nutrition programs that ensure Ohio children don’t go hungry, particularly during the summer months.
One-quarter of Ohio’s children live in households that have experienced hunger during the past year, and childhood nutrition programs are critical to providing school lunch and breakfast for these students. But too many of these children don’t have access to a nutritious meal when school cafeterias close for the summer.
All Ohio children should be able to count on healthy, nutritious meals year round – summer break shouldn’t mean going hungry.
We’ve worked with advocates across the state to raise awareness of the summer feeding program each year, and last week the Senate Agriculture Committee voted to advance legislation that includes my bipartisan Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act.
More than 633,000 Ohio children receive free or reduced-priced lunch on an average day, but many of these same students miss out on this important source of nutritious food in June, July, and August. The summer feeding program helps bridge the gap, but right now it’s only reaching about 10 percent of children who need it. Our provision would improve the way we reach students during the summer, to ensure more children get the food they need.
It would help provide food to children who can’t access summer feeding sites. With school buses often not operating when school is out of session, many children — particularly in rural areas — have no way to get to the churches and recreation centers and parks where meals are served.
The bill would also allow children to pick up meals and eat them off the premises, providing flexibility for busy parents who are often juggling work and child care while their children are out of school.
And it would cut red tape that organizations often face, streamlining the paperwork and application processes that are hurdles for schools, faith-based groups, and other organizations trying to serve students.
This provision has broad, bipartisan support, and passed as part of legislation to reauthorize funding for school lunches, breakfasts and meals for children and mothers without enough to eat.
All Ohio children should be able to count on healthy, nutritious meals year round — the National School Lunch Program is one of the most successful programs we have at curbing childhood hunger.
The writer is a U.S. senator from Ohio.