For thousands of kids in Illinois, going back to school means breakfast and lunch five days a week, meals missed by many students during summer months.
The School Lunch Program provides food for more than 725,000 low-income children in Illinois, but the Food Research and Action Center estimates about 14 percent of those kids are unable to access summer food sites.
Bob Dolgan, director of statewide partnerships with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, says a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate, the Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act, would help expand the Summer Food Service Program.
"If we had more flexibility to serve meals in rural areas with things like mobile meal delivery," says Dolgan. "If in urban areas we could drop meals and move onto a number of sites on any given day which we can't do now, we could serve many more children."
Dolgan says school programs are critical in Illinois, where one in five children frequently don't know when or where they'll get their next meal. The legislation is part of the Child Nutrition Act, which must be reauthorized by Sept. 30.
The bill, introduced by U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, R-Ill., would give states more options to reach hungry kids in hard-to-reach areas, including providing a grocery credit for families to purchase healthy food for their kids. Dolgan says they are also advocating to drop an area-eligibility requirement.
"If you're a child in Illinois living in a community that is relatively high income, but your family is lower-income, you're not able to get a summer meal," says Dolgan "If eligibility were expanded, almost 175,000 more children would potentially have access to summer meals."
In addition to school meals, other programs set to expire if Congress doesn't act include support for pregnant women, new mothers, and infants; as well as food for children at homeless shelters and child-care centers.