House Plan Eliminates Free School Meals for Nearly 300,000 Children

On Tuesday the charity Feeding America warned of the consequences of the House Agriculture Committee’s cuts to food stamps on the Farm Bill. The House committee currently plans to cut $16.5 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka SNAP, or food stamps).

The cuts to food stamps would also mean that “nearly 300,000 children would lose their free school meals,” according to Feeding America. Children who were eligible for the free meals because their family received food stamps would lose access to a critical safety net.

Vicki Escarra, the president of Feeding America, asks, “What will households do to make up for this loss in food assistance? The vast majority of SNAP recipients have extremely low incomes – 20 percent of these households have no income at all…Proposed cuts would mean that some low-income Americans may literally go without food.”

The proposed cuts come at a time when 49 million Americans are suffering from hunger and unemployment rates are high.

For children and their families a free school meal is a safety net, especially in tough economic times. Since the early 1900s when Cincinnati school teacher Ella Walsh and other innovators started serving “penny lunches” to needy children, school feeding has evolved. By 1946 Harry Truman signed into law the National School Lunch Act leading to free or reduced-price lunches for children in need.

Today, child hunger is escalating in the United States and the loss of free school meals is a major blow to the fight to end hunger in America. Over 20 percent of children in the U.S. suffer from hunger, or “food insecurity,” according to Feeding America. Some counties in the U.S. have child hunger rates well over 40 percent.

Zavala County in Texas has over 48 percent of its children suffering from hunger, with Starr Country in Texas at just over 45 percent. Imperial County of California and Luna County in New Mexico are third and fourth on this list with 43 percent hunger rates. Yuma County in Arizona has 42 percent of its children suffering from hunger. The list goes on and on, with other counties well over 30 or 40 percent in child hunger rates.

Meanwhile the cuts to food stamps will mean an increased strain on already overstretched food banks. Escarra adds, “If these cuts to SNAP are passed, the food banks in Feeding America’s network will be even more overwhelmed with people seeking food assistance. The food pantries, soup kitchens, and other organizations that are served by Feeding America are already stretched to the limit.”

The full impact of this summer’s drought on food prices may not be felt for months. But if food prices become high over a significant period of time, then foodbanks will be stretched even more. The ranks of the hungry in the United States will struggle even more to find safety nets. Congress can change this by committing to ending hunger in America.

Brett Weisel, the director of advocacy for Feeding America, says that supporting federal anti-hunger programs isn’t about giving a handout. It’s about providing help up. So that those in need can achieve more. When people in our communities don’t have enough food to get through the day, it costs us all. Hunger creates health problems. Children struggle to learn. Workers are less productive. Opportunities are lost.”

Article first published as House Plan Eliminates Free School Meals for Nearly 300,000 Children on Blogcritics.

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