DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — A new report released by the Food Research & Action Center is highlighting the importance of school breakfast not only in helping combat childhood hunger but also learning loss prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Food Research & Action Center’s annual School Breakfast Scorecard, released every year since 1992, assessed school breakfast participation in all 50 states and the District of Columbia up to the start of COVID-19 related school closures.
Utah was ranked in the bottom 10 for the ratio of schools offering breakfast to those offering lunch, and the state was listed last for the ratio of free and reduced-price students in the school breakfast program per 100 in the school lunch program. The report also revealed that on an average school day from September through February of the 2019-20 school year, 5% fewer lower income children in Utah were participating in breakfast than the previous year.
The report further notes that if Utah schools participated in breakfast at rates similar to West Virginia and other national leaders, over 46,000 more low-income children would be fed daily and over $9 million would be available annually to Utah meal programs through federal reimbursements.
“Access to breakfast is more important for students than ever, not just as nutrition, but because of the impact breakfast has on focus and mental health,” said Neil Rickard, child nutrition advocate for Utahns Against Hunger, said in a press release.
Utah has already taken statewide steps to improve breakfast participation. In March 2020, just after the cutoff of the scorecard’s data set, then-Gov. Gary Herbert signed legislation introducing the Start Smart program aimed at increasing breakfast participation by phasing in alternative breakfast models like “second chance breakfast” or “breakfast in the classroom” over the next several years.
“We know that the states making gains in participation are the ones supporting these alternative breakfast models,” Rickard said. “Start Smart will be a terrific step towards making sure all Utah children receive the benefits of a wholesome breakfast at the start of their day.”
Federal waivers in effect through June 30 have been allowing students to received breakfast and other meals at no cost through the summer meals program. Pandemic EBT, which was extended by the continuing budget resolution last fall, would also provide benefits to families of low-income children unable to attend school due to pandemic-related closures.
“The alternative breakfast models that Start Smart supports are one of the critical ways to make sure kids are getting the meals they need,” Rickard said. “COVID-19 created a lot of hunger, and parents should know about the programs that will still be available to their kids in the future.”
Read the full School Breakfast Scorecard here.
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