BY YVETTE BROWN
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was joined by Congresswoman Grace Meng, Borough President Melinda Katz and Deputy Mayor Richard Buery to highlight the importance for healthy meals to be presented in schools all year round.
On Monday, Aug. 10, elected officials spoke to children at I.S.5, The Walter Crowley Intermediate School, to discuss the fight against the effort to weaken school nutrition. Gillibrand announced a bipartisan legislation to provide nutritious meals during the summer where they provide free meals for children of low-income families up to the age of 18.
The Summer Meals bill would provide children with access to healthy food by lowering the threshold and allowing areas with 40 percent or more of students receiving free or reduced lunch to be eligible for the program rather than the current threshold of 50 percent. The bill would expand eligibility to 3.2 million children.
It would also reduce the paperwork burden for meal program sponsors who want to participate in the program and provide children with transportation to the summer meal sites. There are more than 50 national organizations that have endorsed the Summer Meals Act.
“As we debate child nutrition standards, we need to make access and serving healthy food at our schools a priority,” said Gillibrand, the first New York Senator to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years. “We are not only ensuring our kids are eating nutritious food, we are also expanding opportunities for our local farmers. In addition, the Summer Meals Act would give more children access to quality meals when school is out for the summer by strengthening the USDA summer nutrition program. No child should have to go without a healthy meal.”
Across the United States, 31 million students participate in the national school lunch program while 22 million students receive free or reduced school lunch. In New York, more than 1.7 million children receive free of reduced school lunch while 27 percent have access to summer meals.
Congress is debating about child nutrition standards and school meals this fall due to the fact that the Healthy, Hunger-Free Act is getting ready to expire. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was an achievement for improving what cafeterias serve children. This act says that in order for school meals to be eligible for federal reimbursement, one of the main requirements is that they must contain at least a half a cup of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Obesity rates in New York City have been another ongoing epidemic, with 34 percent of adult New Yorkers overweight and 22 percent of them are obese. According to nyc.gov, data shows that obesity begins early on in life. One in five kindergarten students and one in four of the Head Start children are obese.
“The de Blasio administration is committed to raising student achievement through a range of initiatives to better meet the needs of its 1.1 million students and their families, starting with Pre-K for All and by expanding our Community Schools that offer mental health, physical well-being, or other vital supports to better support the social, emotional and physical needs of students,” said Buery. “We’ve also driven a significant expansion of school nutrition programs and we need Congress to stand with us. We must expand programs that help schools provide fresh fruits and vegetables for our children.”
Programs that were authorized by the USDA such as the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Summer Food Service Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program are also set to expire in September and must be renewed this year.
Gillibrand is pushing to expand the purchases from local food producers to raise students’ awareness of local agriculture. This would strengthen the ties between farmers, producers and meal service providers.
Her legislation would give children more access to healthy summer meals by expanding the USDA Summer Food Service Program. It would help improve nutrition and enhance learning in underserved areas by integrating summer education and meal programs to make it easier for public-private partner organizations to participate in the summer meals program and, will provide the option of a third meal for children who attend evening enrichment programs. Her legislation would also reduce red tape and make it easier for existing after school meal providers to sponsor Summer Meal programs and improve student participation rates in the School Breakfast Program.
“As a mother of two young boys who attend public school in Queens and as Founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Kids Safety Caucus, I know first-hand how important the fight for accessible and proper nutrition is,” said Meng. “As lawmakers, it is our duty to ensure that these programs are renewed and enhanced so that children do not suffer at the hands of bureaucratic barriers. No child in Queens or anywhere in America should go hungry, and the food they eat should be chocked full of nutrients; ingredients they need to fuel their pursuit of the American dream. School may be out for the summer, but access to nutritional meals should not have a break too.”
Reach Yvette Brown at (718)357-7400 ext.128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @eveywrites.