Let's Feed Hungry School Children and Save Billions in Tax Dollars
Let's Feed Hungry School Children and Save Billions in Tax Dollars
NO MORE HUNGRY SCHOOL KIDS. NO MORE SHAME.
AND BILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN SAVINGS FOR TAXPAYERS.
We can make this happen by signing this petition to pass:
Senate Bill 1530, The Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021.
FOR MILLIONS OF CHILDREN, SCHOOL MEALS ARE THEIR ONLY MEALS.
And any unexpected family crisis, such as illness or unemployment, means the kids who’ve had no meals in school may return to a house with no food.
I Remember Louis
I was a first-year high school English teacher in a wealthy school district in CT. I simply didn’t think about hunger amid such affluence. Louis would come in late, disheveled, and go quietly to the back of the class, keeping his head down. I couldn’t get him to talk. The guidance counselor told me Louis would disappear from the school grounds at lunchtime. Later, I discovered he was homeless. And so hungry he couldn't bear the smell of the food from the cafeteria.
What’s the Problem? There are so many kids like Louis. Feeding America, the nation’s largest anti-hunger organization, estimated in 2019 that there were 12.5 million US children – 1 in 6 – at risk of hunger. And with the job losses brought on by the pandemic, it was estimated that by July 2020, that 18 million children – 1 in 4 – were experiencing food insecurity at least sometimes.
This, despite our current school nutrition programs and the many anti-hunger charities. This is inhumane, immoral and un-American. And a waste of billions of tax dollars paying for the consequences of that malnutrition.
Malnutrition stunts the development of mind and body and impairs the ability to concentrate and learn. The damage is often irreparable. What happens to these students? They are punished and suspended. They are expelled or fail to graduate. And they leave school with no skills to become productive, independent adults. Some turn to crime. A huge number develop chronic and expensive health problems they can’t pay for. Taxpayers pick up the tab.
We knew all this long ago. The 1946 School Nutrition Act (SNA) was signed by President Harry Truman because “…an investigation found that the poor health of men rejected for the World War II draft was associated with poor nutrition in their childhood.” Seventy-five years later, all medical evidence shows the same is true for our students.
Aren’t Our Current School Meal and Anti-Hunger Programs Enough? No. Despite their excellent work, charities are dependent on the vagaries of the economy. Access to National School Meal programs has been hampered by unrealistic eligibility requirements and time-consuming paperwork. Other government programs are susceptible to changes in political ideology. Some families don’t qualify but are still in great need.
Why Can’t the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Benefits Take Care of the Problem? Half of all families that received SNAP in 2019 were not able to get enough healthful food because the benefits were too low. Among households with children, monthly SNAP benefits averaged just $118 a person—or less than $4 a day. Many families had to skip meals even when buying the cheapest products. When there’s not enough food in the home, there’s no money for even reduced-price school lunches. And the current soaring Covid-related food prices have put many families in real danger. They cope by skipping meals, reducing portions to a minimum or just going hungry.
Current Eligibility Requirements Simply Aren’t Realistic. “Too many children in need are left out due to the current program structure,” according to the Food Research and Action Center. “Children are certified to receive free school meals if their household’s income is at or below 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. This translates into an annual income of less than $35,000 for a family of four for the 2021–2022 school year.
“But the livable salary for a family of four in the US back in 2019 was nearly $69,000.18. That does not take into account regional differences in the cost of living. This discrepancy between eligibility and the living wage means that many families who are struggling to make ends meet do not qualify for free school meals.”
Big Helpings of Hunger and Humiliation for Poor Children.
When poor kids can’t pay for a hot lunch, many schools use their own funds and give them a cold cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwich and milk. But others give the kids nothing. And some offer a side helping of humiliation. It’s called Food Shaming.
--Pennsylvania. The cafeteria cashier threw a little girl’s hot lunch in the trash because the child owed for last year’s lunch bill.
--Atlanta, GA. A third grader bought some ice cream which brought his meal balance to $1.38. The cashier took the boy’s hand and stamped it “I Need Lunch Money.”
--Warwick, RI. The school district announced that students who had unpaid meal debts would no longer receive a hot lunch. Instead they’d get a sunflower-seed butter and jelly sandwich until the bill was paid.
--Wyoming Valley West School District, Pennsylvania. One of the poorest districts in the state notified families that if their children’s lunch debts over $10 weren’t paid up, they could be reported to court and their child placed in foster care.
As of 2019, eleven states actually had to pass laws to stop schools from shaming poor children about meal debts. That same year, the federal government proposed “The Anti-Lunch Shaming Act” (S. 1119). It failed.
That yellow cheese sandwich is like a flashing neon light: “This child is poor.”
The National School Lunch Program has helped billions of children over the years. But more kids need it. This Bill makes that happen by making the meal programs both universal and permanent. In 2019, its two components, the School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, served more than 4.8 billion lunches and more than 2.4 billion breakfasts to eligible students. Because of the Covid crisis, the federal government decided to extend free lunches to all school children through the 2021-2022 school year. The program has been so successful it is obvious that it should be made permanent.
AND THAT’S WHAT SB #1530 DOES:
- Covers all children, regardless of income. No one goes hungry.
- Eliminates the complex applications and time-consuming paperwork that add to administrative costs and exclude many needy children.
- Increases the Reimbursement Rate for School Meals.
Current reimbursement rates are insufficient to cover the cost of producing meals. This Bill increases the rates in line with the USDA’s estimated cost of producing meals to $2.72 for breakfast and $3.81 for lunch and dinner.
- Ends Shaming due to School Meal Debt. Prior to the pandemic, 75% of our school districts had unpaid meal debt. This Bill would pay off those debts, end the need for charging meals and stop the harassment of parents and students.
- Helps Rural Communities. Every dollar spent on local, fresh food used for school meals will generate over two dollars in local economic activity. This Bill offers incentives of up to $0.30 per meal for schools that procure 25% of their food from local sources. “If all schools met that 25% goal, local farmers would get an additional $3.3 billion in income per year, a 28 percent increase in local food sales – an enormous investment for our rural communities,” notes the Bill’s sponsors.
- Ends Summer Hunger. More than 30 million children received nutrition assistance over the summer as a result of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan. Bill #1530, the Universal School Meals Program, would make that assistance permanent for all children regardless of income, including for families in rural areas where meal sites may not be as accessible. This Bill also expands the number of allowable meal services for childcare providers.
- Is Cost-effective. School meals are absolutely the most economical ways to ensure nutritious meals for our students. School food professionals are true heroes. They have found ways to offer delicious, balanced meals, appealing to many tastes, at a cost most couldn’t achieve at home due to economies of scale and use of local farm products.
- Is Inclusive. Homeless, migratory and foster children and those from Tribal Authorities are included.
- Has Major Support. This Bill is supported by more than 360 organizations, including the School Nutrition Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA), AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), American Heart Association, Episcopal Charities of New York, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, National Education Association (NEA), New York School Boards Association, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), Hunger Free America, Children’s Network, Save the Children, United Federation of Teachers, Yeshia Ahavath Izrael. (See the link to the full list and to the Bill at the bottom.)
- Ends the Waste of Tax Dollars for the consequences of malnutrition, especially illness.
--Estimates put nationwide healthcare —just healthcare—costs related to hunger at $160.5 billion each year.
--For every $1 spent on food for a needy person, approximately $50 is saved in Medicaid expenses.
--It is less expensive to feed one person healthful food for one year than to cover the cost of hospitalization and related medical expenses for a single day.
We need a new business model for our schools, one that puts nutrition on a par with classroom studies and just as integral to school success.
We don’t charge students for textbooks or for riding the school bus; why charge them for nutritious food, without which the buses and books are useless?
Food is not a privilege; it is a right. Whether a hungry child gets a meal must never depend on any political ideology. America is better than that.
Why continue to pay so much for tragedy when we can pay so much less for success?
Link to Endorsing Organizations:
Link to SB 1530:
Please sign this petition to urge Congress to pass Senate Bill # 1530, the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021 (117th Congress 2021-2022). This Act may be cited as the “Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021.”
And pass the petition on to everyone you know.