USDA Child Nutrition Programs: Protecting & Strengthening Our Kids

by | Mar 21, 2017

As a state that is consistently at or near the top of the national poverty rankings, Arkansas’s need for anti-poverty and anti-hunger programs is very high. People living in poverty stands at 19%, households considered food insecure is 19.1%. Twenty seven percent of children live in poverty and one in four (26.3%) are food insecure.

Hungry children cannot flourish. When the No Kid Hungry campaign was established in Arkansas (2010), the state ranked #1 in the nation for childhood hunger. Our strategy was to effect change by increasing access to federal child nutrition programs (National School Breakfast, National School Lunch, Summer and At-risk Afterschool programs) for children from low-income families.

While slow, we have made progress. According to the 2016 Feeding America Map the Meal Gap report, Arkansas now ranks #5. As we feed more children, we expect our ranking to improve even more. But let’s be clear: there is more work to do and cutting federal funding is not the way to insure that all of our children have the best possible chance  to succeed.

  • In the 2011\2012 school year 26.4 million breakfast meals were served to Arkansas students. In the 2015/2016 school year it was 30 million breakfast meals— an increase of 6 million meals served to students from low-income families since Breakfast After the Bell became a priority. Schools were reimbursed for those meals by USDA child nutrition funds.
  • The Alliance and our No Kid Hungry campaign stakeholders have helped more than 500 Arkansas schools start Breakfast After the Bell programs that make breakfast part of the school day. Federal funding means students start the day focused and ready to learn.

“Breakfast in the Classroom, a program that costs us nothing, makes our grades better, our attendance better and our discipline better.”

Matt Mellor, Principal, Pulaski County Special School District

  • We have gone from 4 schools in 2 districts feeding all of their students breakfast and lunch at no cost under the Community Eligibility Provision in the 2014-2015 school year, to 139 schools in 45 districts in the 2016-2017 school year.
  • In the summer of 2016, 2.5 million meals were served to children in need who depend on school meals during the school year, yet that represents only 16% of the children who are eligible for free or reduced school meals. Access is clearly still a barrier and requires program revisions to make summer meals more available to more at-risk children. Congress has thus far been unable or unwilling to take up Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation.

“In evaluating how to help more families next summer, especially in the rural areas, I am going to work on becoming a mobile meals site.  These rural children are not being served.”

Carolyn Taylor, Iron Sharpens Iron, Ozark, AR

  • In 2016, 3.7 million afterschool meals were served to children who might not have otherwise had dinner. That is 21,185 more than the previous year. The need is clearly present. It’s a long time between lunch one day and breakfast the next. Afterschool meals programs that bridge this gap are absolutely crucial if at-risk children are to grow up healthy and able to take their rightful places in society.

 “We have 250 kids who come in every day to eat. We teach them about life skills, help them with their homework and make sure they’re having fun. Federal child nutrition programs and nonprofits like the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance are the reason we are able to do this year around.”

Larry Clark, founder, Life Skills for YOUTH, Little Rock

Cuts to the federal child nutrition programs would be devastating to high poverty states like Arkansas that struggle with childhood and household hunger. Let your members of Congress know that you support USDA Child Nutrition programs and want them protected and strengthened.