The Senate Education Committee approved a bill this morning to broaden a program that provides low-income children with nutritious meals during the summer months.
State Sen. Eddie Lucio’s Senate Bill 89 aims to increase participation in the Summer Food Service Program, a federal reimbursement program that gives schools money to feed their children from June through August. According to a 1993 state law, schools that have 60 percent or more students on the free or reduced-price lunch program during the academic year are required to feed students over the summer, with an option to waive out. Lucio’s bill would change that, opening it to schools that have 50 percent or more students on the program during the year. Schools would still have the option to waive out of the program. Under the bill, schools would also be required to serve food for 30 consecutive weekdays during the summer.
“I don’t have to tell you all that child hunger is a very serious problem in this state,” said Lucio, who worked on a similar bill last session that passed in the Senate but failed in the House.
Lucio told the committee that 1.7 million Texas children live in poverty, and 2.9 million children are poor enough to participate.
While the need is certainly there, Celia Cole with the Center for Public Policy Priorities – who testified in favor of the bill – told senators that participation in the summer food program is low in Texas. Less than 20 percent of the millions of children eligible to be fed during the summer months actually are, and only one third of school districts that have 60 percent or more low-income children serve meals over the summer. Many school districts, especially in rural west Texas and the Panhandle, opt out of the program because of financial constraints, including the high program implementation costs and low reimbursement rates from the federal government. Schools also can’t pay for the transportation required to get children from their homes to the feeding sites during the summer months.
“Low-income kids who really relied on meals during the year really had no place to go for nutritious meals during the summer,” she said. The bill “will open up the program to more school districts and hopefully create more partnerships.” Schools can also partner with local organizations, food banks and summer camps to serve meals off campus.
The committee voted 5-0 to send the bill to the Senate floor.