Gillibrand pitches bill to expand summer lunch program

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on March 6, 2014. Photo Credit: AP / Charles Dharapak

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand visited a Wyandanch nonprofit Friday to promote a new bill that would expand the number of low-income children who can get free or discounted summer lunches.

About 7,000 Long Island students -- 3,916 children in Nassau and 3,064 in Suffolk -- are eligible for the summer lunch program. Gillibrand's bill would expand eligibility to 44 additional Suffolk schools and 16 more in Nassau.

Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said the Summer Meals Act, which she introduced in late June, would "help more children across America access quality meals during the summer months."

Congress was scheduled to recess Friday, and the earliest the bill, which has three co-sponsors, including one Republican, could go into effect would be next summer.

Gillibrand detailed the bill during a news conference with Suffolk County legislators and food service providers at the Gerald Ryan Outreach Center in Wyandanch. The nonprofit group provides meals, education and clothing to low-income individuals.

Sites such as schools and recreation centers currently qualify for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's summer nutrition program if 50 percent or more of children in the surrounding area are eligible for free or discounted meals. The bill would expand eligibility to 3.2 million more children nationwide by lowering the threshold to 40 percent.

To be eligible for reduced-cost school meals a family of four must earn no more than $44,123; free school meals are available to families of four earning no more than $31,005.

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The legislation also would eliminate the need for nonprofits that are already certified to provide meals to kids after school to apply again for the summer meals program.

The act allocates $10 million in grants to provide meals to kids in rural and other under-served areas through food trucks. The legislation would also provide meals to children who attend evening summer programs.

A House version of the bill has two Republican sponsors, and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said he plans to sign onto the measure.

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