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Funding for nutrition programs informed by census statistics

Posted Feb. 5, 2020

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a child getting lunch
Knowing how many children are in an area helps federal, state and local officials evaluate funding for nutrition programs.

We all know fresh fruits and vegetables are key to good health. Yet many low-income neighborhoods have limited access to fresh produce.

That’s why programs such as the federally-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the National School Lunch Program are vital to the health of communities.

Knowing how many children are in an area helps federal, state and local officials evaluate funding for nutrition programs.

SNAP, previously known as Food Stamps, provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budgets of families “so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency,” according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which manages the program.

The 2020 Census will help officials plan for SNAP and other federal nutrition programs for the next 10 years. SNAP receives approximately $71 billion a year in federal funds.

National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs

What began at the end of the 19th century as a school lunch program in Boston and  Philadelphia is now the National School Lunch Program, a nationwide, government-funded school nutrition program.

In 2016, more than 30.4 million children received free or low-cost meals in their school cafeterias, according to the USDA. The program varies from school to school. 

All U.S. schools provide free or reduced-price meals to economically-disadvantaged students. But some schools offer meals at no cost to all of their students if at least 40% of them receive SNAP and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families assistance. Some qualifying students also have access to meals during summer months when school is out.

The Census Bureau is working to educate the public that young children should be counted if they live and sleep in a home most of the time. A newborn should be counted if he or she was born on or before April 1, 2020.

According to the Census Bureau, children living in homes where the adults have limited English-speaking skills or are living in poverty are also more likely to be missed.

Food assistance programs critical for low-income children, families

According to the Census Bureau, of the 13.8 million households that receive SNAP, 6.7 million have children under the age of 18 and 6.4 million have someone living with a disability.

Of all the homes with children under 18, about 18% receive assistance from SNAP, according to the Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey. Students who qualify for SNAP also get free or reduced-cost school lunches.

Federal nutrition programs are among the many reasons it is so important to respond (and report all children, including newborns, living in your home) to the  2020 Census.

Knowing how many children are in an area helps federal, state and local officials evaluate funding for nutrition programs.

SNAP and the National School Lunch Program are just two nutrition programs that use census results to inform planning. Other programs include the National School Breakfast Program, lunch programs for people age 65 years and older and meal delivery to disabled and homebound individuals.

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