Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) has introduced legislation to address the growing number of U.S. children who go hungry on the weekends or when school is not in session. The Weekends Without Hunger Act, cosponsored by Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.), would establish a pilot program that provides resources to eligible institutions, such as schools and emergency food providers, to carry out projects to provide nutritious food to at-risk school children on weekends and during extended school holidays during the school year. Eligible institutions must be located in low-income communities, meaning at least 50% of the children are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals.
“For many children at risk of hunger in this country, school breakfasts and lunches are a main source of food throughout the week.” Senator Specter said. “We need to act to ensure that no child goes hungry simply because it’s the weekend.”
“While we have made great strides to make sure children in Pennsylvania and throughout the country have access to quality, nutritious meals while they are in school, we have a lot of work to do to make sure that same access extends to the hours when they are not in school,” said Senator Casey. “Far too many children in this country get the only meals they eat all week while they are in school. I am pleased to be working with Senator Specter on this legislation that helps bridge the gap between school and home to ensure that kids can have hearty, healthy meals on weekends and vacations during the school year.”
Nearly 20 million school age children - including more than one million in Pennsylvania - eat a free or reduced-price meal at school each day. And a recently survey by Drexel University shows that the number of children under the age of 6 experiencing very low food security has tripled since 2006.
“Feeding America is pleased that Senators Specter and Casey have introduced this important piece of legislation. Currently there are no targeted Federal nutrition programs that feed children on weekends, when they do not have access to school meals. The Weekends Without Hunger Act will fill this gap by funding pilot programs that will provide healthy food to children who would otherwise be at risk of hunger,” said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America.
“Through their support of the Weekends Without Hunger Act, Senators Specter and Casey have taken a bold step in advancing the cause of feeding America’s hungry children,” said Kendall Hanna, Executive Director of Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. “The Central PA Food Bank applauds them for their efforts. The need to feed children in our community, and across the U.S., is alarming. This important legislation will bring awareness to the issue of childhood hunger in America.”
The bill’s 5-year pilot program would provide a minimum of $10 million each fiscal year to schools and food banks to purchase food commodities to fight hunger. One successful model is Feeding America’s BackPack Program which distributes backpacks filled with nutritious, child-friendly, non-perishable food to eligible students before weekends or holiday vacations. According to Feeding America, they operate more than 3,600 BackPack Programs and serve more than 190,000 children in 46 states and the District of Columbia; many programs have waiting lists as they are unable to keep up with demand.
Senator Specter intends to seek inclusion of the Weekends Without Hunger Act in the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. U.S. Representative Dina Titus (NV-3) is sponsoring companion legislation in the House.