Augusta, Maine (Tuesday, November 22, 2011) — Only one in ten eligible Maine children currently benefit from free lunches under the federally funded Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) according to a new study released today by the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP). The study, entitled "Child Hunger Doesn’t Stop with the School Year" by researcher Carlyn Williams, found that while Maine received $1.1 million in SFSP funds in 2011 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the state failed to take advantage of another $10 million available to feed Maine children under the program.
"As Mainers gather for their Thanksgiving family dinners, it is a time to reflect on the importance of making sure that every Maine child has a healthy meal 365 days a year," MECEP Executive Director Garrett Martin said. "In 2011, more than 83,000 Maine kids are eligible for a free or reduced price school lunch. More than 69,000 kids took advantage of the program during the school year, but over the summer months that number plummeted to less than 8,000 daily. As our new study’s title points out, child hunger doesn’t end when school adjourns for summer. A coalition of nonprofit groups, including MECEP, Preble Street, Maine Equal Justice Partners, Maine AARP, Maine Council of Churches, and Muskie School of Public Service, are working together as the Maine Hunger Initiative to promote higher SFSP participation rates and provide deserving Maine children nutritious meals during the summer to keep them healthy and ready to learn."
Two counties- Hancock and Lincoln -have no summer food sites while three others- Knox, Piscataquis and Sagadahoc -meet less than 5% of need. There are also numerous examples of that have succeeded in addressing this issue with the support of the Maine Department of Education.
The MECEP report makes a series of specific recommendations to improve SFSP participation, including efforts to:
- dedicate a full-time Maine Department of Education position to expanding SFSP;
- work with current institutional sponsors to increase sites offering SFSP meals to eligible children;
- target outreach to underrepresented counties and school districts;
- convene a Summer Food Advisory Council to support both school and community-based site development;
- expand outreach efforts in areas with SFSP sites with more information distribution and publicity; and
- explore options like using existing community transportation services to provide children in rural areas with greater access to SFSP meal sites.
"Maine must use the federal funds available to abate child hunger year around, and now is the time to start preparing for next summer," Martin said. "Clearly, to assure economic security over time, we must act to create good jobs, increase wages and benefits and strengthen services that protect working families from financial distress. But we all have a stake today in assuring that all Maine children have access to nutritious meals to keep them healthy and strong. Their future and ours depend on it."
MECEP released the findings of the study as the latest installment in the organization’s long-running MECEP Choices series.