Children — 22% of our population, 100% of our future
Child Hunger Rising in Vermont
Good nutrition is important for physical and mental health at all ages, but especially for children as their bodies grow and their brains develop. Not getting enough nutritious food disrupts and stunts that growth and development. Hunger affects the trajectory of a child’s life: it impacts future health, academic achievement, and even eventual workforce participation.
More children are going hungry. According to the Census’ Current Population Survey, 20,400 Vermont children — almost 1 in 6 — lived in food-insecure households in 2007,* representing a 13% increase. (A household is considered food insecure when the family reports running out of nutritionally adequate food.) This high level of hunger was measured over a year ago, before the current economic downturn and increases in food prices.
Of the many factors jeopardizing children’s health and development, lack of access to food is relatively easily remedied. Nutrition assistance programs have proven to be effective and efficient in feeding children. These programs include:
- 3SquaresVT (formerly Food Stamps): provides low-income families funds to purchase food.
- School Meals Program: low-income children can qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school. Similar programs are offered at child care locations and certain sites during the summer months.
- WIC (The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants, and Children): offers nutrition education and food to pregnant women, infants, and young children.
Strengthening these programs and improving access will help ensure that the next generation of Vermonters can realize their full potential.
Legislation Addressing Child Nutrition
Legislators have introduced two bills in the House and an omnibus bill in the Senate to improve low-income children’s nutrition. H.311 and H.408 have been assigned to the House Human Services Committee, and the Senate Health and Welfare Committee is considering S.118. The three bills would strengthen existing nutritional assistance programs by:
- simplifying the enrollment process,
- making snacks more available at after school programs and child care centers,
- providing free lunches to more students,
- and increasing reimbursements for summer meals programs.
Estimates predict that the measures would leverage up to $2.7 million in federal funds.
On the federal side, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will give Vermont families participating in 3SquaresVT more money for food. The Joint Fiscal Office estimates that $34 million will go towards temporarily increased benefits.
Child Hunger Commentary on VPR
Commentator Ron Krupp talks about the hardships facing low-income families and children as food prices rise. He also describes the responses of communities and organizations across the state. Read or listen to the commentary here.
Spotlight on Vermont’s Kids
Spotlight on Vermont’s Kids is about the needs of our children and finding ways to meet those needs, the challenges they face, the opportunities we have to support and nurture them, and how their wellbeing is important to us all. Continuing to invest in our children’s wellbeing is more important than ever in these difficult economic times. That is our surest route to the best possible future for them and our state.
* 2007 numbers represent a three-year average (2005-2007). The increase is over the previous three-year period (2002-2004).