More low-income Texas children have access to free and reduced price lunch over the summer than they did in 2012, according to a new report by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), based in Washington D.C.
FRAC says Texas added 297 "summer meal sites" across the state in 2013. Those are places at schools or non-profit organizations where children whose families make less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level can get reduced-price meals through the federal Summer Food Service Program or the National School Lunch Program. Children from families earning less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level get free meals.
"Kids backslide over the summer months," Texas Food Bank Network president Celia Cole says in explaining the need for a summer meals program. "They're not reading. They're not in school. They need to be nourishing their minds and their bodies, and these summer food service programs combine nourishing meals with enrichment activities."
The Texas legislature passed a law in 2011 requiring schools to serve meals for at least 30 days over the summer if 50 percent or more students are eligible to receive them. Cole credits that measure for helping to increase the availability of meals.
But the Food Research Action Center report also says only 12 percent of low-income Texas children eligible to receive meals over the summer are actually eating them. The Center says if Texas could raise that number to 40 percent, the state could get an extra $49 million in federal funding.
"It's a challenge in a big state like Texas that's so spread out with so many rural areas to find where those kids are, and make sure that either the kids can get to the site to eat or the food can get to the kids," Cole says.
Texas is one of five states the U.S. Department of Agriculture selected to try to increase participation in the summer meals program. Cole says two of the largest barriers for schools and nonprofits are transportation of children in the summer and ensuring families know the meals are available.