Quarles lends support to bill boosting summer feeding program flexibility

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Dr. Ryan Quarles has lent his support to The Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act, a bipartisan bill that includes flexibility for summer feeding site sponsors to reach schoolchildren in hard-to-reach areas of rural states like Kentucky.

“When I first took office as Agriculture Commissioner, I traveled the state and spoke with food banks and summer meal site operators about the bureaucratic rules and regulations that complicate serving meals to hungry kids during the summer months,” Commissioner Quarles said. “This bill will allow more flexibility for summer feeding programs to meet kids where they are.”

The bill, introduced by Republican Leader U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), adds additional flexibility and choice in existing federal child nutrition programs, which would allow states to better ensure children in rural areas are not treated unfairly when school is out of session. Currently, children must travel to a central location and eat their meals together. In rural areas, it can be difficult for children to reach a site, if a site even exists.

“I applaud Leader McConnell for pushing this effort forward, for getting bureaucratic rules out of the way, and making sure that fewer Kentucky schoolchildren go hungry,” Commissioner Quarles said.

The Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act would authorize the Department of Agriculture to establish two alternative options for program delivery for summer meals:

• Authorize summer meal providers to deliver to eligible children in rural and hard-to-reach communities, allowing for meal distribution flexibility if a delivery site is unexpectedly closed due to inclement weather or other conditions; and

• Provide eligible households with an Electronic Benefit Transfer card each month over summer break to purchase eligible food items from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program approved retailers. In USDA pilot programs, summer EBT was shown to reduce child hunger by more than 30 percent.

“Children in rural areas often face significant hurdles when trying to access school meals during the summer months, including irregular public transportation and long commutes to school. This problem has only become more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic. Washington’s one-size-fits-all approach to this issue has proved insufficient for rural students who struggle with obstacles that those in urban areas might not,” Senator McConnell said. “The Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act would give states the flexibility to provide summer meal delivery programs to children in hard-to-reach areas. This bill will bring effective, flexible reforms to existing school meal programs and deliver greater fairness to Kentucky’s most vulnerable children.”