Free and Reduced-Price Lunches Are Essential to a Child’s Education
My kid’s elementary school was located in an affluent part of town. But in a nondescript building about a mile away, there was a homeless shelter. So, unbeknownst to students who all wore uniforms, kids who had either K Street lawyer dads or homeless moms would learn side by side in harmony. The only time it became obvious was at lunchtime. The homeless students had free breakfast and lunch at the school, whereas the rich kids ate nutritious breakfasts at home (or at the gourmet corner bakery), and would pack custom-made bento boxes. I remember one winter morning, the principal was worried the city would call a snow day. “These are the only meals these kids get,” she lamented, her eyes welling up. For some kids, lunch is the last meal of the day before getting breakfast at school the next morning.
That has always stuck with me — and then it got personal. The following year, I was suddenly laid off from my job. I didn’t know what to do. But then the kind secretary in the office handed me a form. “Here, fill this out.” It was for the free lunch program. At least my kid would be taken care of during this time. This also allowed me to qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance benefits (SNAP), which only mitigated my financial problems a tad. But with my unemployment insurance, every little bit helped.
Fortunately, by the following school year, we were pretty much back on track. But boy, was I grateful to have assistance in my time of need.
That’s why it incenses me that the Trump administration is trying to make it harder for families to qualify for SNAP and free and reduced lunch by getting rid of something called categorical eligibility. According to the Center for American Progress, “eliminating categorical eligibility would cause 3 million people, including seniors and people with disabilities, to lose their SNAP benefits, increasing the risk of food insecurity for families who are already struggling to get by. The proposed rule is also likely to make hundreds of thousands of children ineligible for free school meal programs, allowing them to go hungry and therefore be unready to learn — both physically and cognitively.”
According to No Kid Hungry, there are 12 million children who live in food-insecure homes. Providing summer meals when school is out is always a challenge for every community. And now that school is almost back in session, the problem doesn’t go away. Recently, a Pennsylvania school district threatened parents that their children would be put in foster care if they didn’t clear their lunch debt. What? Why are we punishing families over something as basic as food? Shouldn’t school lunch be free for every child? Hungry kids can’t learn when they’re dealing with toxic stress, malnutrition, not to mention the social stigma. Children need nutrients to grow and develop their bodies and minds. They should be focusing on learning, not where their next meal is going to come from.
Why this country, with its abundance of food and resources, is content with starving children is beyond my comprehension. If you want to protest this cruel decision, the Trump administration is accepting public comments until September. Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) has a template that makes commenting easier for you.