Senator Lucio's Letterhead

CAPITOL UPDATE FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 7, 2010
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez, Communications Director
Phone: 512-463-0385

PROMOTING VOLUNTARY SUMMER FOOD LUNCH PROGRAM

In Texas, one in four children is at risk for hunger, and this figure can be even higher in certain areas of South Texas.

This summer, I want to encourage our communities to sponsor this voluntary summer food program, while commending those who are reaching out to children in need.

The Summer Food Program (SFP) is 100 percent federally funded, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and operated in the state by the Texas Department of Agriculture.

The agencies provide more than $40 million each year to help low-income communities serve nutritious meals to children in safe, enriching environments during the summer.

Eligible sponsors include school districts, nonprofit agencies, certain camps and local government agencies like city parks and recreation divisions.

Located in communities where at least 50 percent of the children qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, these sponsors serve free meals to any child who comes to the site.

During the last legislative session, I introduced Senate Bill 867 to increase this voluntary participation in the SFP. My goal was to enhance existing programs through increased public awareness, update state law to reflect federal law and help children obtain nutritious meals in the summer when school is out.

My bill attempted to increase the number of sites, days of service and students who can benefit from the program.

Unfortunately, the bill was stalled in the House and did not pass. I will continue to work on this issue during the upcoming legislative session and plan to file legislation again.

In 1993, the Legislature passed a bill mandating that school districts sponsor the SFP if 60 percent or more of their students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. Since the law passed, summer food sponsors increased by 60 percent. In 1999, the Legislature funded a Summer Food Outreach Program and provided a state supplement to federal meal reimbursement rates that was later discontinued.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities stated, "With the support of the Legislature and the changes in federal law, Texas significantly expanded the Summer Food Program."

CPPP reports that the number of children participating in 1998 was fewer than 100,000 and by 2008, participation rates had risen to an average of 456,840 daily (latest figures available). Statewide, over 17 million meals were served.

Also according to CPPP, in 2008, for Cameron, Hidalgo, Kleberg and Willacy counties, an average of 47,723 kids participated daily. In 2009, a total of 960 SFP sites served meals in that four-county region.

Despite our progress, fewer than one in five children, or 18 percent, who qualify for free or reduced school meals participated in the SFP in 2008. Factors contributing to this gap include a shortage of food sites and a lack of awareness of the program among potential sponsors and low-income families. Also, too many sites close their doors long before the end of summer.

In Texas, participation drops dramatically between July and August. We have too few sponsors in rural areas because of transportation barriers. Inadequate meal reimbursement rates and complicated administrative requirements also deter potential sponsors.

The challenges are great but not insurmountable. We cannot ignore the hunger problem because this will only result in dire consequences for Texas.

When children are poorly nourished, they cannot learn and often perform poorly in school. Many are likely to drop out, leading to more unemployed or underemployed adults. Most importantly, human suffering should not be tolerated in our great state.

This coming legislative session, I plan to do my part to help end hunger and give children hope for the future.

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my Communications Director, 512-463-0385.

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