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Afterschool Supper Participation Decreased from 2021 to 2022

November 27, 2023

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Afterschool Snack Programs include the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Through NSLP schools can serve one snack afterschool, however through the CACFP schools and sponsoring organizations are able to serve a snack in addition to a supper. This additional supper is an important opportunity to meet children’s nutritional needs after the school day is over. A report by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) found that while participation in afterschool supper remained steady throughout the pandemic, there has been a 23% decrease in participation between October 2021 and October 2022. 

Why It Matters 

According to a report by USDA, 1 in every 8 children are food insecure in the United States, meaning approximately 9 million children don’t know where their next meal will come from. While 56% of households participate in SNAP, WIC, or the National School Lunch Program, 3 in 5 parents still find it difficult to afford food for their kids to eat afterschool meals. Therefore, afterschool supper programs are needed to make sure these children receive the nutrients they need to be happy and healthy.  

Key Findings 

  • Over 1.15 million children received an afterschool supper on an average school day in 2022. 
  • Participation in afterschool suppers decreased by 339,360 children (23%) in October 2022 when compared to October 2021. 
  • Participation in afterschool suppers remained relatively steady during the pandemic, serving 1.42 million children in October 2019, 1.45 million in October 2020, and 1.49 million in October 2021. 
  • In October 2022, afterschool suppers reached just one child for every 16 children who received a free or reduced-price lunch during the same month. 
  • Nearly 1.19 million children were served by the Afterschool Snack Programs on an average weekday. 852,065 snacks served through NSLP; 335,066 snacks served through CACFP. 
  • While afterschool snack participation decreased overall by 250,074 children, the drop in participation was seen only in CACFP snacks, with 453,032 fewer children receiving a CACFP snack in October 2022.  
  • Participation in NSLP snacks in October 2022 increased by 202,958 children. 
  • Only 38,034 sites served afterschool suppers and/or snacks in 2022, a drop of 5,089 sites from 2021. 21,907 sites participated in CACFP; 16,127 sites participated in NSLP. 
    • There was a 20 percent decrease (5,466 sites) in CACFP afterschool sites and a 2 percent increase (377) in NSLP afterschool sites. 

Policy Recommendations 

Streamline the Afterschool Meal Program and Summer Food Service Program 

Many community-based organizations and local government agencies operating the Afterschool Meal Program through the CACFP also serve summer meals to the same children through SFSP. This means that sponsors must apply for and operate two distinct programs with different eligibility criteria and program requirements to provide meals 365 days a year. Allowing sponsors to operate one program year-round would eliminate duplicative and burdensome paperwork while supporting sponsors’ efforts to serve more children in their community and to do it better. The Omnibus in 2022 includes a directive to USDA Food and Nutrition Service to consider allowing sponsors in good standing to submit one application to operate both CACFP and SFSP. While this builds on previous administrative streamlining, more should be done to fully streamline these programs. 

Allow School Food Authorities to Serve Suppers Through NSLP 

Schools can provide only snacks after school through NSLP. This requires them to operate CACFP to serve a meal instead of just a snack or to feed children on weekends and school holidays, creating a significant and unnecessary administrative burden for schools that leads many schools to provide only a snack. The reauthorization should streamline the Afterschool Nutrition Programs to allow schools to provide up to a meal and a snack any day during the regular school year through NSLP, as sponsors are allowed to do through CACFP. 

Lower Area Eligibility Threshold 

To participate, CACFP afterschool sites are required to demonstrate that they are in a low-income area in which at least 50 percent of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. NSLP sites have the option to use individual student eligibility, but that approach does not provide the free reimbursement for snacks, making it less financially viable. The current 50 percent threshold keeps many communities where poverty is less concentrated, such as rural and suburban areas, from participating. The pandemic eliminated the need to meet the 50 percent threshold, increasing access and reducing administrative work. Lowering the eligibility threshold, even if it is just from 50 to 40 percent, would improve access to suppers in every state.. 

Conclusion 

After maintaining, and even slightly increasing participation in October 2020 and 2021 during the height of the pandemic, just over 1.15 million were served afterschool suppers on an average school day in October 2022, a decrease of 23%. This marked the first time that participation in afterschool suppers has dropped since the program became available nationwide 13 years ago. 

Even prior to the pandemic, afterschool suppers were falling short: serving only 1.42 million children, less than one child for every 15 who received a free or reduced-price school lunch, in October 2019. To increase access, Congress should lower the area eligibility requirements to increase the number of communities that are able to participate; streamline the programs for schools and summer food sponsors to alleviate the unnecessary and duplicative administrative burden that discourages their participation; and increase federal funding for afterschool programs to give more children from households with low incomes access to afterschool programs and suppers. 

 

Read the full report Afterschool Suppers: A Snapshot of Participation – October 2021 and October 2022 by the Food Research & Action Center