USDA’s Summer Food Demonstration Program Helps Combat Child Hunger, Study Finds

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Posted: Monday, August 5, 2013 10:08 am | Updated: 10:25 am, Mon Aug 5, 2013.

A government demonstration program to provide school-age children from low-income households with meals and snacks during the summer months showed a 33% decrease in the rate of very low food security among children in the demonstration’s second year, according to a new study conducted by Abt Associates in partnership with Mathematica Policy Research.

The Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (SEBTC) demonstration, funded by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, is aimed at reducing childhood hunger during the summer months, when children may not have access to the free and reduced-priced school meals that they receive during the school year.

“There is a saying, when school is out, kids take a vacation, but hunger doesn’t,” said Ann Collins, principal associate at Abt Associates and director of the evaluation.  “Our study showed that, in the communities where it was offered, SEBTC substantially reduced levels of very low food security among children, which occurs when children’s food intake is reduced or their eating pattern is disrupted, and low food security among children, which means the quality or variety of their diet is reduced. So additional food benefits provided to families through electronic benefit transfer cards offered school-age children a concrete way of receiving meals during the summer.”

The study measured the impact of a $60 per child per month food benefit provided to more than 66,000 children in 14 sites in Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Washington and the Cherokee and Chickasaw Nations. Households were eligible for the special benefit if they lived in participating school districts and had children in grades pre-kindergarten through 12, and if they were certified for free or reduced-price school meals.  The benefits were issued via electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards over the summer of 2012 using states’ existing EBT systems for their regular Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

“Children in households that received the SEBTC food benefit ate more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products and had fewer sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Ronette Briefel, senior fellow at Mathematica, and co-principal investigator of the evaluation.  “These are important strategies to improve children’s diet quality and also address childhood obesity.”

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