Where are the School Meals?

Emergency school feeding in Mali through the World Food Programme. Cuts by Congress to food aid could harm this program. (WFP/Daouda Guirou)

Emergency school feeding in Mali through the World Food Programme. Cuts by Congress to food aid could harm this program. (WFP/Daouda Guirou)

We know that globally there is a huge need for school lunch programs to fight child hunger. Yet, it’s the middle of June and there’s still no word on which countries will receive grants from the U.S. McGovern-Dole school lunch program. Last year the announcement took place in April and the previous year in May.

The McGovern-Dole program is run by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA). However, the program is constantly under stress from potential funding cuts by Congress.

Bread for the World reported earlier this year that “234,000 children will have reduced or denied access to school feeding programs under the McGovern-Dole program” as a result of the sequestration cuts. It is believed that the sequestration is causing the delay in the announcement of the school feeding grants. The longer the delay, the longer hungry and malnourished children have to wait for the meals.

Aid groups, including Catholic Relief Services and the World Food Program USA, want funding for McGovern-Dole increased. They see the positive effects this program has in countries that are suffering from disasters, war, or long-standing poverty. This year’s Farm Bill legislation is the perfect opportunity to increase the level of funding and allow for more school meals in Afghanistan, Mali, Haiti and other countries where needs are massive.

WFP USA says it “has included an ask for McGovern-Dole of $300 million for FY14 in our overall global hunger and nutrition recommendations. Providing $300 million a year for McGovern-Dole would allow this program to reach 10% of the hungry school-aged children in need, increasing their nutritional status and increasing school attendance, especially for girls.” Recent funding levels for McGovern-Dole are around the $200 million mark.

Here in the United States the National School Lunch program is meant to fight off child hunger.

But what happens when summer arrives and schools close? The lunches are disappearing for many children. The Food and Research Action Center (FRAC) just released a report showing a huge gap in feeding coverage during the summer months.

The report says, “for every seven low-income students who depended on the National School Lunch Program during the regular 2011-2012 school year, only one child received summer meals in July 2012.”

Tom Vilsack, head of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), emphasizes, “We must do all we can to ensure that children get nutritious food year-round, so that they are ready to learn during the school year and have a greater chance to succeed.” Efforts by USDA and the public have slightly improved summer feeding participation but the gap in coverage is still huge.

Jim Weill, the president of FRAC, says, “USDA is providing strong leadership with its emphasis on improving summer meals, but Congress will need to fix some of the underlying problems in the programs in the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization to truly repair the Summer Nutrition Programs. Congress must take a fresh look at the Summer Nutrition Programs and consider ways to improve this faltering program so it more effectively addresses hunger and obesity.”

The struggle to defeat hunger at home and abroad depends on school meals. Leaders, both from the government and the public, need to ensure these vital food programs are strengthened.

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