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Politics & Government

Bill Would Ease Eligibility For Summer Food Programs

Legislation to lower eligibility requirements for children receiving free summer meals was touted in Washington last week by co-sponsor U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, Jr.

The Summer Meals Act of 2015 aims to involve more communities in widespread meal programs by lowering the threshold for how cities qualify for federal assistance. Existing law requires at least 50 percent of children in a participating area qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill, first filed in February, would lower that bar to 40 percent.

"I'm certainly open to going lower than that," said Casey (D-Scranton), "but I think that's an achievable number to start with."

Pennsylvania provides breakfasts, lunches and snacks to more than 850,000 children from low-income families during the school year. Casey said the average daily number of participants during summer months was around 75,000.

Programs nationwide don’t fair much better, he said.

About 2.6 million American children participate in summer feeding programs; another 18.4 million qualify.

“That’s a national failure that we have to correct,” Casey said.

The bill would also provide funding for transportation grants to bring children to the food as well as setting up mobile meal trucks that could travel into need-heavy neighborhoods. Funds would extend to local government agencies and nonprofits hoping to set up food sites year-round, and allow all sites to serve a third meal rather than the more traditional two meals and a snack.

Allegheny County is second only to Philadelphia for the number of sponsors, sites and children served. In 2014, that was 348,333 in 63 sites countywide.

Check here to find a summer food site.