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June 24, 2015
by Lorianne Burhop

Our nation’s child nutrition programs help ensure that all kids have access to the food needed to succeed in school and live active, healthy lives. Yet far too many children across Montana struggle to get enough to eat. More than one in five children in our state live in food-insecure families. While the child nutrition programs play a crucial role in the lives of tens of thousands of Montana children, there is more work to be done.

Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) is our best opportunity to support and strengthen child programs such as School Meals, WIC, Summer Food (SFSP), and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). The 2010 Reauthorization – the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act – made significant changes to the school meal programs, improving nutritional quality and allowing high-need schools to serve all meals at no cost. Now, as we head into the 2015 Reauthorization, some of our biggest opportunities will be around out-of-school time programs and in particular, summer food.

We know that summers can be hard for families as children lose access to the school meal programs. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is intended to help fill this gap, feeding over 8,500 Montana kids every day during the summer months. But too many kids are missing out. In 2014, Montana had 17 counties with no program available and nine with only one site. Just 20 percent of the kids who relied on free or reduced-price school lunch during the school year also participated in summer food. In our very large, very rural state, much of this gap is due to the challenge of transportation. Even if a community has a program available, families often live miles from town making regular participation nearly impossible.

Congress has the opportunity to strengthen SFSP in numerous ways that would benefit Montana families. The Summer Meals Act includes several important provisions including streamlining the application process for many sponsors, allowing additional communities to participate in Summer Food, and providing funding to sites to address transportation challenges. The Stop Child Summer Hunger Act complements the Summer Meals Act by offering a new program model in areas where the traditional summer food model simply doesn’t make sense – such as in areas of Montana’s frontier counties with average populations of fewer than six people per square mile. Instead of the traditional model, this bill supports Summer EBT, which provides participating families with benefits on an EBT card that they can use at the store to supplement their food budget. The innovations in each of these bills would go a long way towards improving access to SFSP in Montana and must be included in the final CNR.

It is time for Congress to make a commitment to reducing child hunger by supporting a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization. An investment in CNR is an investment in our children’s health, education, and economic future. Let’s not miss this opportunity!

Lorianne Burhop of the Montana Food Bank Network

*Lorianne Burhop has worked  at the Montana Food Bank Network on outreach and advocacy for the public food programs for six years. A native Montanan, Lorianne received a Master’s degree in Sociology from the University of Montana in 2009.

**Photos courtesy of Montana Food Bank Network.

Tags: Hunger in the News , Advocacy , Montana , Montana Food Bank Network

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