Bill Increasing Child Hunger Needs to Go

From our colleagues at Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon

A U.S. House committee just proposed a bill that will increase child hunger. It should be rejected in no uncertain terms.

At a forum on school meals held recently at an elementary school in Hillsboro, a fifth grade student was asked about what school meals mean to him. His answer: “It helps me concentrate.”

Like textbooks, breakfast and lunch at school are important building blocks for a student’s ability to learn and succeed. Research consistently shows the benefits of school meals on learning and health. We should be making it easier to serve meals at schools, not harder.

That’s why we are outraged that the U.S. House has proposed a bill that would increase child hunger by limiting access to healthy meals for our nation’s students.

The bill is entitled “The Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act.” That’s pretty bold. Saying you improve child nutrition by taking away school meals is like saying you improve your experience as an Oregonian if someone takes away your raincoat.

We wanted to share three major ways this bill hurts kids in Oregon:

  1. Eliminates food assistance for 66,000 kids in Oregon during the summer. The bill prohibits Oregon from participating in the highly-successful Summer EBT for Children program, which provides additional food assistance during the summer for kids that receive meals at school during the school year. This program reduces child hunger during the summer by one-third, and in 2016, over 66,000 kids in Oregon will participate. The bill would prevent Oregon from continuing to participate in the program.
  2. Prohibits 205 high-poverty schools from serving breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge. Over 77,000 students in Oregon attend 205 schools that currently serve breakfast and lunch to all students, but would be cut off from this option (called Community Eligibility) if the bill were to be enacted. Currently, schools have the option to serve meals to all students if over 40 percent of students are identified as experiencing homelessness, living in foster care or participating in a program like SNAP. The bill raises the threshold to 60 percent. For the 205 schools that are over 40 percent but below 60 percent, they would have to discontinue the program, reinstate the application system and alert families, yet again, to the change. It should be noted that this is only the rate of identified students, and actual rates of low-income students at these schools are often much higher.
  3. Creates additional red tape for schools and low-income families, jeopardizing access to school meals for thousands of students. The bill would triple the number of school meal applications that are subject to income verification in many schools and districts. With such steep increases, overwhelmed school administrative staff will be stretched and stressed further. A disproportionate number of vulnerable families, such as those who are homeless, migrant or have limited English proficiency will lose access to school meals for which they are eligible.

Lawmakers need to start over, and ask how we as a nation can end child hunger once and for all. At the very least, this bill should “first do no harm.” As written, however, it does quite a lot of harm.

Join us in urging your representative to reject this bill.