Fox News Gins Up “Controversy” Over Summer Lunch Program For Low-Income Neighborhoods

Fox News trumpeted critics' complaints that the USDA's Summer Food Service Program might feed children who aren't in need. However, as even Fox acknowledged, meal sites operate only in low-income areas where at least half of children qualify for free or reduced lunches during the school year. Fox also failed to fully acknowledge the benefits of the program.

Fox Reporter Claims Summer Lunch Program “Comes With A Side Of Controversy”

Fox's Cowan Repeats Critics' Assertion That The Program Might “Have Taxpayers Feeding Every Child Whether They're Needy Or Not.” During the July 5 edition of America's Newsroom, Fox News reporter Claudia Cowan gave a report on the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). After Cowan noted the program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and that it allows “more than 3 million children to eat for free,” she said the lunches “come with a side of controversy” and aired a complaint from Jon Coupal, the president of California's Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association:

COWAN: Taxpayer watchdogs groups say most Americans are fine helping children truly in need. 

COUPAL: However, if someone is coming from a family that makes a quarter-million of dollars a year and they're not checking eligibility coming in the door, I think most people would wonder, am I paying for this?

Cowan concluded by saying:

COWAN: Organizers contend after a summer of nourishing meals, these kids will do better in school in the fall. They make sure that lunch is eaten on site and that the adults don't mooch. But those rules don't go far enough for critics who wonder if this come one, come all invitation won't have taxpayers feeding every child whether they're needy or not. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 7/5/12]

But Summer Lunch Program Is Only Offered In Low-Income Areas ...

Fox's Cowan: Summer Lunch Sites Are “In Areas Where At Least Half The Children Qualify For Free Lunches During The School Year.” From America's Newsroom:

COWAN: This summer fun cafe and others like it are funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in areas where at least half the children qualify for free lunches during the school year. But come summer, anyone 18 and under can pull up a chair to Uncle Sam's table. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 7/5/12]

Program Website: Sites Only Operate “In Low-Income Areas Where At Least Half Of The Children ... [Are] Eligible For Free And Reduced-Price School Meals.” From the Frequently Asked Questions page on SFSP's website:

4. Where does the program operate? 

States approve SFSP meal sites as open, enrolled, or camp sites. Open sites operate in low-income areas where at least half of the children come from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the Federal poverty level, making them eligible for free and reduced-price school meals. Meals are served free to any child at the open site. Enrolled sites provide free meals to children enrolled in an activity program at the site where at least half of them are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. Camps may also participate in SFSP. They receive payments only for the meals served to children who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. [, accessed 7/5/12, emphasis original]

... Is Much Smaller Than The School-Year Lunch Program ...

Share Our Strength: In 2010-11 School Year, “More Than 20 Million Kids And Teenagers Relied On Free Or Reduced-Price Lunches,” But “Fewer Than Three Million” Got Free Summer Meals." From Share Our Strength's 2011 Summer Meals Program report:

Despite the benefits of summer meals programs, they are severely underutilized. By the end of the 2010-11 school year, more than 20 million kids and teenagers relied on free or reduced-price lunches each school day -- yet fewer than three million participated in free summer meals programs. [Share Our Strength, accessed 7/5/12 under “Read the full report”]

ConAgra Foods Foundation: While “20 Million Children Received Free Or Reduced-Price Lunches” In 2009-10 School Year, “Only 2.3 Million Children Received Meals” Through Summer Program. From the website of ConAgra Foods Foundation, the philanthropic arm of ConAgra Foods:

  • When children are in school, they have access to breakfast and lunch through federal programs like the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, but there is a significant gap in participation for programs that feed children when they are not in school.

o    During the 2009-2010 school year, 20 million children received free or reduced-price lunches through the National School Lunch Program, but only 2.3 million children received meals during the summer months of 2009 through the Summer Food Service Program. [ConAgra Foods Foundation, accessed 7/5/12]

... And Provides Important Benefits For Children

Share Our Strength: "[C]hildren Are At A Higher Risk For Both Obesity And Hunger During The Summer Months." From Share Our Strength's report:

For most kids, summer vacation is a much deserved reward for a year of hard work in the classroom. For many children from low-income families, the summer can mean a time of uncertainty. When school is out, these kids no longer have access to the free and reduced-price meals they rely on during the school year. Studies show that children are at a higher risk for both obesity and hunger during the summer months. Family budgets are often stretched to the breaking point -- and many families also face the challenge of providing safe, supervised and affordable places for kids and teens to socialize, play and learn during the summer.


The availability of free meals is also an incentive for children to participate in summer enrichment programs, which means that not only are they being well fed, but that they are in a safe environment engaged in educational and recreational activities that enable them to return to school ready to learn. Summer meals programs help families stretch limited food budgets and give parents peace of mind during the summer months. And they can introduce families to community resources that they can access all year long. [Share Our Strength, accessed 7/5/12 under “Read the full report”]

ConAgra Foods Foundation: Hungry Children Have Poorer Health And Academic Achievement And “Struggle Even After Their Childhood Years.” From ConAgra Foods Foundation's website:

Consequences of Child Hunger

  • Preschool and school-age children who experience severe hunger have higher levels of chronic illness, anxiety and depression, and behavior problems than children with no hunger.
  • Moderate nutritional vulnerability, the kind often seen among children facing hunger in the United States, can hinder cognitive development and impair young children's abilities over a lifetime.
  • Children who struggle with hunger face additional problems, such as:

o    Slower growth and inhibited brain development

o    More illnesses, including stomachaches, headaches, colds, ear infections and fatigue

o    Greater susceptibility to obesity and its harmful health consequences

o    Lower concentration and alertness in school

o    Lower academic achievement

o    Increased likelihood of developing psychosocial and behavioral issues, such as:

§  More aggressive behavior

§  Higher levels of hyperactivity, anxiety, and/or passivity

§  Greater need for mental health services

o    Less energy for social interactions

o    Unable to adapt as effectively to environmental stresses

  • Individuals who face hunger as a child struggle even after their childhood years:

o    They are not as well prepared physically, mentally, emotionally or socially to perform effectively in the contemporary workforce.

o    Collectively, they have lower levels of educational and technical skills which reduce the overall competitiveness of the workforce.

o    Chronic undernutrition can also lead to greater health care costs for not only families of children experiencing hunger, but for future employers of those individuals who faced hunger as a child. [ConAgra Foods Foundation, accessed 7/5/12, emphasis original]