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American Families Plan Would Boost Summer Nutrition For UT Kids

Moodboard/Adobe Stock

Food insecurity among rural Utah children, already a problem prior to the pandemic, has grown worse in the past 15 months.

Children's advocates said while free and low-cost school lunch programs help feed thousands of Utah kids each year, a Biden administration proposal could permanently expand these nutrition programs, particularly outside of Utah's urban school districts.

The multi-billion-dollar American Families Plan would provide direct payments to families to cover kids' meals during the summer break.

Neal Rickard, child nutrition advocate for Utahns Against Hunger, said the plan would close a major gap in current food programs.

"The thing about summer meals in Utah is that we are a fairly rural state, most of the state is not an urban area," Rickard explained. "And while districts do a great job of providing summer meals while they're available, there are still a lot of places that are just never going to be fully accessible for summer meals."

The program would provide eligible families $300 or more a month during summer break for groceries. It also includes tax credits and improvements to education, childcare, jobless benefits and paid leave, but many Republicans oppose the plan's hefty price tag.

Rickard noted in more than 60% of rural Utah households, both parents work, meaning their kids can't always participate in summer meal programs.

"A lot of the time, there are limited time frames where the summer meal sites can be accessible, and also, just because you're in a rural area, a significant distance away from where parents might be and a place to access them," Rickard pointed out. "We love the Summer Meals Program; it just doesn't fully address some of the needs that we have here in Utah."

Rickard predicted in Utah, childhood hunger will still be a problem in the coming years.

"I would love dearly to see our recovery, a bounce-back after the pandemic, that even ate into these existing rates of food insecurity," Rickard remarked. "But frankly, this was a problem prior to the pandemic, and will continue to be one."

The Biden administration touts the American Families Plan, paired with the American Jobs Plan, as a post-pandemic effort to rebuild the country's physical infrastructure and workforce. Congress has not begun to debate the plans.