Senator Murray Introduces Sweeping Legislation to Ensure Kids Don’t Go Hungry When School is Out

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Representatives Mike Levin (D-CA) and Jahana Hayes (D-CT) 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.

Approximately 29.6 million students are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals each day during the annual school year and 1 in 6 Washington state kids live in a household that faces challenges in putting enough food on the table. 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.

“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.”

“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 Representative 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.”

“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.

Senator Murray has been a leading advocate for kids and families in the United States Senate, especially during the pandemic, carrying legislation to stop child hunger every Congress since 2014 with the introduction of her Stop Child Summer Hunger Act. As COVID-19 has shone a harsh light on the failures of the existing system to meet the needs of kids as it relates to nutrition, Senator Murray’s legislation more vital, and more passable, than ever. Having relied on food stamps for a brief time during her childhood, Senator Murray knows firsthand the difference a helping hand can make in the lives children.

Following Senator Murray’s advocacy on this issue, President Biden’s recently unveiled American Families Plan would make a similar investment in expanding school nutrition programs.

“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.

“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.”

“Hunger doesn’t take a break when schools are closed, and for kids who count on school meals for consistent nutrition, missed meals can mean setbacks in health and ability to focus on learning when school doors re-open. This is why the Stop Child Hunger Act is a critical piece of legislation, helping families put food on the table to make up for missed school meals and keeping kids on track for closing opportunity gaps in learning,” said Christina Wong, Director of Public Policy & Advocacy for Northwest Harvest.

“The Washington Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition is thrilled to support the Stop Summer Child Hunger Act because too many kids go hungry when schools are closed. Earlier Summer EBT pilots proved to reduce child hunger and improve summer nutrition in pilot sites, and Pandemic EBT has proven these findings nationwide. Now kids need us to do what works to make sure they get the nutrition they need to be healthy and thrive – year round,” said Claire Lane, Director of the Washington Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition.

“When schools close for summer – or a pandemic, parents often struggle to ensure their children have the nutritious food they need to learn, grow, and thrive. That’s why Food Lifeline is thrilled to support the Stop Child Hunger Act. We believe children should never face hunger simply because school is no longer in session. This critical legislation will help close the gap for families facing food insecurity and provide much needed assistance year-round,” said Linda Nageotte, President & CEO of Food Lifeline.

The Stop Child Hunger Act is endorsed by the Food Research Action Center (FRAC), National Education Association (NEA), Feeding America, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Share Our Strength, Alliance to End Hunger, Northwest Harvest, Washington Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition, Food Lifeline, San Diego Hunger Coalition, Feeding San Diego, Norrish California, and California Association of Food Banks.

See a fact sheet on the Stop Child Hunger Act HERE.

See bill text for the Stop Child Hunger Act HERE.