May 26, 2021

Rep. Mike Levin and Senator Patty Murray Introduce Sweeping Legislation to Ensure Kids Don’t Go Hungry When School is Out

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representative Mike Levin (D-CA) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced the Stop Child Hunger Act, which would provide families who have children eligible for free and reduced-price school meals with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card when school is not in session, such as during Summer or Winter break, or when schools are operating remotely or in a hybrid model. Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) also joined in introducing the bill. A fact sheet on the bill is available here, and text of the legislation is available here.

Approximately 29.6 million students are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals each day during the annual school year. School nutrition programs provide critical nourishment to students to support healthy living and improve cognitive function throughout the school day. A lapse in these benefits during the summer months can have a drastic impact on low-income families. The necessity of school nutrition programs has become especially pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and with school’s operating remotely or in a hybrid model, the introduction of Pandemic-EBT – modeled after Summer EBT – has averted severe hunger for many households.

“This pandemic exposed how serious the child hunger crisis is when kids aren’t being fed at school, and we must do more to fill the void so every child has the nutrition they need to grow and thrive year-round,” said Rep. Levin. “Our Stop Child Hunger Act will ensure that eligible families have the benefits they need to put food on the table and replace meals that kids would typically receive at school, building off of programs we know work well. Local food banks support this bill because they’ve seen the demand for help from families when school is out. We need to step up to meet that demand and help make sure their kids aren’t going hungry.”

“During this pandemic, millions of kids who rely on free or reduced-price school meals have been left wondering where to find their next meal with school buildings closed. I want to make sure no kid no goes hungry when school is out -- we need to be doing more in the fight to end child hunger,” Senator Murray said. “My legislation is a common-sense solution that builds on successful, existing programs and would help families afford groceries during the pandemic to replace the meals that kids would otherwise get at school. We’ve seen lines that stretch for miles at food banks across the country this past year – this pandemic has to be a wakeup call for America. Hunger doesn’t take time off when schools buildings are closed, so neither can we.”

“Hungry children were oftentimes the students that passed through my classroom doors. As a teacher, I did all I could because I knew the impact of empty bellies on learning and engagement. Child hunger is not only a policy failure, it is a moral failure,” said Representative Hayes. “There are massive gaps in our nutrition safety net leaving children vulnerable to the effects of food insecurity – especially during COVID-19 related school closures, summer breaks, and holiday vacations. Ensuring all children have access to nutritious meals, at school and home, is critical to ending child hunger. The Stop Child Hunger Act will make the Summer-EBT program nationwide and permanent ensuring food access for all children – including the over 115,000 children in food insecure households in Connecticut. I am grateful that this proposal is supported and will work with Representative Levin to ensure the passage of this critical legislation.” 

The Stop Child Hunger Act of 2021 builds on the foundation, success, and learning from the current Pandemic-EBT and Summer EBT programs to establish a permanent nutrition program for children from low-income families when they are out of school, and would:

  • Convert the Summer EBT pilot into a permanent, nationwide program.
  • Authorize EBT cards for eligible households with a balance worth the daily value of school lunch and breakfast to cover school closures of more than five days, including summer and winter school breaks and when schools are operating remotely or in a hybrid model for more than five days.
  • Allow eligible households to use EBT cards for the purchase of food only from retail food stores that have been approved for participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • Provide grants to states to support the development of data systems or upgrades to existing data systems to carry out this program.

The Stop Child Hunger Act is endorsed by Food Research Action Center (FRAC), California Association of Food Banks, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, National Education Association (NEA), Feeding America, Share Our Strength, Alliance to End Hunger, San Diego Hunger Coalition, Feeding San Diego, and Nourish California.

“No child should ever have to experience the devastating impacts of hunger or malnutrition. Yet every summer, we see parents struggling to put enough food on the table when school meals aren’t available,” said Anahid Brakke, CEO of the San Diego Hunger Coalition. “The Stop Child Hunger Act of 2021 offers an easy, practical solution: give parents with very low incomes a little extra money on an EBT card when school is out, so they can purchase more healthy food for their kids. The funds are spent in local grocery stores, parents can buy what their kids will eat and, most importantly, children don’t have to worry about getting enough to eat during school breaks. I commend Congressman Levin for listening to the voices of his district and applying the lessons learned from this devasting pandemic to make lasting change to end childhood hunger.”

“Even with having 320 distribution partners, 600 food donors, and 225 farms and packing sheds - we must do more. Before the COVID pandemic, hundreds of thousands of people in San Diego County faced hunger. Now that need has increased by 50% as the pandemic deepened the crisis. Ensuring access to nutritious food is a basic human right, and by fulfilling that need and that right, Feeding San Diego has also rescued high-quality food before it went to waste from over 600 locations in San Diego County, and by diverting more than 27.6 million pounds of food from landfills,” said Dan Shea, CEO of Feeding San Diego. “The Stop Child Hunger Act of 2021 is a crucial step to ensure no child goes hungry, ever. Without such initiatives, hunger relief organizations cannot fulfill the needs of the communities they serve. The leadership that Congressman Mike Levin, Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, and Senator Patty Murray have demonstrated by introducing the Stop Child Hunger Act of 2021 will, immeasurably and positively, keep children hunger secure while also helping them succeed in school.” 

“No child should go hungry in our great state. Yet during the school breaks and disasters, food banks have long been on the frontlines of child hunger when campuses are closed and school meals aren’t available. Research by Rocio Perez, Emerson National Hunger Fellow, showed how vital the combination of school meals and out of school time nutrition options are to making sure children have enough to eat and prevent toxic stress when families can’t make ends meet. We applaud Rep. Levin for proposing the right solution, using the proven EBT model to stop child hunger not only in summer but also during disasters when children are in greatest need, and traditional in-person solutions are difficult to access,” said Andrew Cheyne, Director of Government Affairs, California Association of Food Banks.

“Ensuring access to regular nutritious food is a vital prerequisite for keeping children healthy,” said Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “As we start to emerge from the COVID-19 public health emergency, and our nation starts to recover, it is more critical than ever that we support and strengthen federal nutrition programs like Summer-EBT. Particularly for children in rural and remote communities, policymakers must utilize every tool at their disposal to ensure that all families have what they need to survive and thrive. I commend Congressman Mike Levin, Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, and Senator Patty Murray for introducing the Stop Child Hunger Act, and I urge Congress to prioritize this legislation in any discussion about reauthorizing child nutrition programs.”

"The closure of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted many of the enduring challenges to providing healthy, nutritious meals for millions of food insecure children during the critical months of summer and other school breaks," says Vince Hall, Interim Chief Government Relations Officer, Feeding America. "Youth from communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by hunger, especially when schools are closed. Feeding America supports Representatives Mike Levin (D-CA) and Jahana Hayes (D-CT), and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) in the introduction of The Stop Child Hunger Act of 2021. This important bill will address child hunger by building on the successful Summer EBT and Pandemic EBT programs to ensure that children who rely on free or reduced school meals will have access to adequate nutrition when school is not in session."

“The Stop Child Hunger Act of 2021 is an important step towards ensuring kids have access to the nutrition they need during the hungriest time of year,” says Lisa Davis, Senior Vice President of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. “This bill will help build a more well-nourished nation where children, no matter their zip code or circumstances, can access the food they need to reach their full potential.”

"Millions of children lost access to free and reduced-price school meals during the pandemic, and food insecurity skyrocketed for households with children, particularly Black and Latinx households. What many don’t know is that we see this happen every summer when schools close their doors," said Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). “The Stop Child Hunger Act of 2021 builds upon the success of Summer EBT and Pandemic EBT to create an EBT program for children that provides much-needed nutrition benefits to families who are struggling when a school closes for five days or more, including during the summer, during extended school breaks, and during emergency school closures. FRAC strongly endorses this legislation and urges Congress to move quickly to pass this bill. Hungry children can't wait.”

“All our students - Black and white, Native and newcomer, Hispanic and Asian alike - deserve access to the resources needed to grow and thrive. Central to that is access to healthy and nutritious meals for all students when school is in session or on a break. That is why educators applaud Representative Mike Levin (D-CA), Representative Jahana Hayes (D-CT), and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) for introducing the Stop Child Hunger Act of 2021. This important legislation will help end child hunger over the summer and during other school closures by expanding and making permanent an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) program for children. It builds on the success of the Pandemic EBT program, which helped so many families ensure our students had meals on their table while school buildings were shuttered for COVID-19, and will ensure our students can continue to eat year-round so their minds can learn and they can thrive,” said NEA President Becky Pringle.