WASHINGTON, Sept. 14, 2011 — USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon today highlighted the results of two Summer Food Service Program pilot programs in Arkansas and Mississippi that used incentives to increase participation among low-income children. The study found that the innovative pilot programs were associated with an increased average participation rate among kids in the Summer Food Service Programs by 35 percent in Arkansas and 19 percent in Mississippi.
"Hunger doesn't take a summer vacation, and the Summer Food Service Program helps to ensure that disadvantaged children receive the wholesome, nutritious meals they need when school is out," said Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon. "Through these demonstration projects, we hope to find innovative ways to increase access to and participation in this valuable program, to help fill the summer nutrition gap."
The program report assesses the impact of two 2010 Enhanced Summer Food Service Program demonstrations designed to prevent food insecurity and hunger among children during the summer months when school is out. The Arkansas demonstration offered per-lunch incentives to encourage SFSP providers or sponsors to operate for a greater portion of the summer. The Mississippi demonstration offered new recreational or educational activities at SFSP feeding sites to foster higher levels of participation. While a number of other factors in these states, including some additional funding used by Arkansas to enhance the program, may have influenced the results, the changes observed are consistent with generally positive impacts from the demonstrations.
Additional projects, underway this year, will test home delivery of meals and a backpack food program for kids on days when the traditional SFSP is not operating, as well as household-based summer feeding approaches using the EBT infrastructure of SNAP and WIC.
The results also come during Hunger Action Month. USDA has been collaborating with Feeding America, the sponsor of Hunger Action Month, during September to spread the word about actions that many different stakeholders can take to end hunger. Expanding access to the Summer Food Service Program is an integral part of this message.
USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Janey Thornton said, "Summer Food Service Programs offer opportunities to continue a child's physical and social development while providing nutritious meals during long vacation periods. It helps children return to school prepared to achieve at their highest academic potential."
SFSP sites operate in low-income areas where at least half of the children come from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, making them eligible for free and reduced-price school meals. Meals are served free to any child at the open site. Enrolled sites provide free meals to children enrolled in an activity program at the site where at least half of them are eligible for free and reduced-price meals.
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service oversees 15 nutrition assistance programs that touch the lives of one in four Americans over the course of a year. The programs work together to form a national safety net against hunger. The National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs provide nutritionally balanced, free and low-cost meals to nearly 32 million school children each school day. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program puts healthy food in reach for more than 45 million Americans each month, half of whom are children.