As the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) is set to expire at the end of next month, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited Elmhurst on Monday to call for its renewal and defend the availability of healthy breakfasts and lunches at public schools across America.
Gillibrand, along with Congresswoman Grace Meng, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and hunger advocates, came to I.S. 5 seeking greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables at schools, as well as expanding the amount of students eligible for a summer meal program.
“Class hasn’t started yet but we are already hard at work to make sure our children receive nutritious meals they need to thrive, both during the school year and during summer break,” Gillibrand said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure our children are well-fed.”
The HHFKA will expire on Sept. 30, and as Congress prepares to debate renewing the programs within the act, Gillibrand is advocating for preserving the existing nutrition standards including the requirement of fresh fruits vegetables every day; improving student participation rates in the School Breakfast Program; strengthening the ties between farmers, producers and meal service providers by bolstering farm-to-school programs; and helping school nutrition professionals meet their standard requirements, support peer mentorship programs and provide grants for improved kitchen equipment.
The HHFKA was a landmark piece of legislation that required school lunches to contain at least a one-half cup serving of fresh fruit and vegetables in order to be eligible for federal reimbursement.
“As a mother of two young boys who attend public school in Queens and as founder and co-chair of the Congressional Kids Safety Caucus, I know firsthand how important the fight for accessible and proper nutrition is,” Meng said.
In addition, Gillibrand is advocating to give more children the ability to access healthy summer meals by expanding access to the USDA Summer Food Service Program, as well as reducing barriers and making it easier for existing afterschool meal providers to sponsor Summer Meal Programs.
“Here in New York there are 1.7 million children who rely on this school meal,” Gillibrand said. “And over the summer, less than one-third of our kids can actually access those meals.”
Gillibrand’s Summer Meals Act would lower the threshold to allow areas with 40 percent or more of students receiving free or reduced lunch to be eligible for the program, down 10 percent from the current threshold of 50 percent. This would add 3.2 million children into eligibility.
“Our free summer meals program provides every child in the city the chance to eat healthy, nutritious food every day and that is critical for their development,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement. “By offering meals free of charge at accessible locations throughout the five boroughs, we are meeting families where they are and helping children continue good habits over the summer.”
Gillibrand’s legislation would provide children with transportation to summer meal sites, offer the option of an additional meal to children who attend evening programs, as well as reducing the paperwork for meal program sponsors that want to participate in the program.
“What the senator is doing here is bringing national attention to the fact that if you don’t have the tools to succeed, if we don’t give children the tools that they need, and those tools are more than books and pens and a classroom with wonderful teachers,” Katz said. “Those tools are also the nutrition that children need in order to focus, in order to have attention, in order to be able to succeed in life.”