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Almost a quarter-million young people in Arkansas are at risk of going hungry each summer. While it may be winter, we can prepare now to ensure that the eligible young people of Arkansas get the food for which they qualify.

During the school year, over 230,000 young people receive free or reduced-price lunch at schools in Arkansas. During the summer months, no school can mean no meals for the state's low-income children, which results in already-tight family budgets becoming further constrained. According to the Food Research and Action Center, only 23.3 percent of these low-income students receive the summer meal equivalent of the school lunch program.

With diminished access to nutritionally adequate food, low-income students risk falling behind educationally and developmentally.

While a coalition of public and social sector organizations has already made Arkansas a top performer nationwide in the area of summer meals, more can be done. Arkansans working on this issue should be commended for their dedication and resulting success. Between the summers of 2013 and 2014, the number of organizations sponsoring summer meal programs rose over 22 percent. In that one year, the number of sites where youth could access meals jumped over 101 percent. Groups like Arkansas Food Bank and Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance should be proud of how they have contributed to a stronger, more productive Arkansas.

Efforts are underway to help support more Arkansas young people over the summer and build on the state's current success. First, the Obama administration has announced an expansive proposal to enable students to have year-round access to healthy and nutritious food. Households with eligible children would receive $45 per month per child in the form of electronic benefit cards--similar to those in the food stamp program--that could be used at grocery stores. According to the president's plan, 1 million children nationwide could have access to these benefits by summer 2017.

Second, Arkansas Senator John Boozman has sponsored federal legislation that could give states additional options in reaching young people during the summer months. The bill (S. 1966: Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act of 2015) has broad bipartisan support including co-sponsorships from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, Kentucky) and Senators Cory Booker (D, New Jersey), Roy Blunt (R, Missouri), and Ed Markey (D, Massachusetts).

As co-chairman of the Senate Hunger Caucus, Senator Boozman has been outspoken on the issue of summer meals. Last year the senator was quoted by KTHV that he was "committed to creating opportunities for children to access healthy, nutritious meals when class is not in session." According to Share Our Strength, Senator Boozman's bill could have a life-changing effect on kids from low-income families and provides much-needed options for states in the program's operation. Unfortunately, the bill continues to languish in committee.

Summer meal programs help promote the potential of Arkansas young people. To help invest in the state's youth, consider how you can support efforts on summer meals. You can contact Senator Boozman and his colleagues to voice your support. You can donate time or resources to one of the many charitable efforts in Arkansas making progress despite difficult times. You can also refer individuals to resources to locate meal sites this summer, including a web-based platform from the USDA or Share Our Strength's texting service. By texting "Food" to 877-877 (or Comida for Spanish), families can find summer meal sites closest to them.

Together we can work now to prevent more of the young people of Arkansas from the risk of going hungry this summer.

Tommy Tobin is a teaching fellow in the Harvard Economics Department and a student at Harvard Law School.

Editorial on 02/28/2016

Print Headline: Aid for Arkansas' hungry kids

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