U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's heart is in the right place with her Summer Meals Act proposal.
Too many of the 8,838 Chautauqua County children who receive free and reduced lunch during the school year go hungry during the summer. By Gillibrand's count, only 756 children, or 8.6 percent, of the 8,838 county children who received free or reduced lunch during the school year participated in the summer lunch program in 2013.
The trend is born out both in New York state and across the country. Nationwide, 31 million students participate in the national school lunch program, and 22 million students receive free or reduced school lunch, but only one in seven have access to summer meals. In New York, there are more than 1.7 million children receiving free or reduced school lunch, but only 27 percent have access to summer meals.
Gillibrand recently visited the Winifred Crawford Dibert Boys and Girls Club in Jamestown to speak about the Summer Meals Act, a bill she has proposed that would get more meals to low-income children in the summer months through the existing USDA Summer Food Service Program. Gillibrand's bill would cut the threshold for a community to participate in the program from 50 percent of children receiving free and reduced lunch during the school year to 40 percent. It also will streamline the process for private organizations to partner with the government to bring summer meals to their communities, provide children with transportation to summer meal sites and offer an additional meal to children who attend evening programs.
There is no Congressional Budget Office estimate for the Summer Meals Act, but the Summer Food Service Program reports 151 million meals and snacks were served in 2013 at a cost of $427.6 million. Opening the program up to serve more children will cost more money that must come from somewhere. No one can argue the need to feed hungry children during the summer. Such worthy actions that solve a local problem shouldn't simply be added to the national deficit, however. Unfortunately, we know from past experience our national representatives typically don't think about spending in such terms.
Yes, Sen. Gillibrand's heart is in the right place. It's the national checkbook that is being forgotten. We need to know more about how we will pay for this program before giving it our approval.