Fewer than 1 in every 10 Colorado children who rely on free or reduced-price lunches during the school year are getting access to the state’s free summer nutrition programs, according to a new report published by a national organization studying hunger.
The report found that nationally only 1 in 7 children are using the government-funded free summer lunch programs.
In fact, the report found Colorado ranks as one of the lowest — at 40th of 50 states — in providing federally funded summer meals to children who depend on free or discounted lunches throughout the rest of the year.
The report, titled “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Summer Vacation,” and published by the Washington, D.C.-based Food Research and Action Center, also said Colorado has made some improvement since 2017, when it ranked 44th among states.
Taylor Washington with Hunger Free Colorado, a nonprofit that seeks to connect families to food resources, credited that progress to the addition of 190 summer meal distribution sites across the state. This summer, 680 sites throughout Colorado are serving about 1.5 million meals to children. That’s 30,000 more meals than the previous summer, according to Washington.
While Colorado has made some improvement, Washington said some federal policy changes could make summer meals available to more children who need them.
For example, she said Hunger Free Colorado is advocating for a bill introduced in the House last month, the Stop Child Summer Hunger Act of 2019, which would amend the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to allow families whose children qualify for free or reduced-rate lunches to get a pre-loaded, debitlike card. They can use the electronic benefits transfer — or EBT — card for extra food throughout the summer.
Washington said 10 states have participated in a pilot of the act and have reduced child food insecurity by one-third.
A program like that would benefit students in the far corners of Colorado who might not live close enough to one of the free summer lunch distribution sites.