More than 30 million children receive free or reduced-price meals daily during the school year through the School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch Program. But where do these children get their meals during summer break? A handful of other programs try to fill the gap during summer, but far fewer children are served compared with those served during the school year.
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been testing demonstrations that provide benefits to help low-income households secure food for their children during summer. One such demonstration is the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (SEBTC). SEBTC provides food assistance to families either through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
FNS engaged a team from Abt Associates, Mathematica, and Maximus to study the impact of SEBTC on children’s food security and nutrition. The team found that SEBTC had positive impacts on children: very low food security among children was reduced by about one-third, and children had healthier diets.
At a recent forum of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, Philip Gleason, senior fellow at Mathematica, discussed how the impacts differed depending on whether the summer food assistance came through SNAP or WIC. He said that although the assistance from both EBT systems improved children’s nutrition, those who received benefits through WIC—which provides a package of specific healthful foods—benefited more from summer food assistance. They consumed more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and fewer added sugars from sweetened beverages. Our findings support policies that promote summer food assistance for low-income families. The results also suggest that assistance provided through food packages similar to WIC’s could result in healthier diets among children.