A step backward in the fight against child hunger
As it currently stands, the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization bill (HR 5003), significantly undermines progress in addressing the problem of childhood hunger in America.
When kids are hungry, they struggle to learn. When kids don't learn, they struggle in life. Still, 16 million American kids are at risk of going hungry every day. That’s 1 out of every 5 kids. We can and we must do better.
But the legislation the Education and Workforce advanced on May 18 will make the issue worse.
Among the provisions in the current bill that Fair Share opposes include:
- It makes it much harder for schools to join the popular and successful community eligibility program. Currently, if a school has enough children who are eligible for free or reduced school lunch, the whole school can opt in. This reduces the administrative burden of application and removes stigma from children who need food assistance as the food is made available to all. The current language dramatically reduces the number of schools that would qualify. Up to 3 million students could be affected.
- It puts up barriers for families trying to get access to lunch programs. The bill sets up a series of administration hurdles to make it much more of a hassle for children who need food assistance to actually receive it.
- It weakens the nutrition standards for school lunches, delaying science-based health standards around sodium and cutting back whole grain requirements.
- It lays the groundwork for turning the National School Lunch program into a block grant program, which could dramatically reduce its effectiveness.
Traditionally, the national child nutrition programs have enjoyed bipartisan support. But this bill, dividing sharply on party lines, breaks this tradition, and increases the likelihood that children will be struggling in class on an empty stomach.
Feeding kids is the right thing to do, period. It’s also the right thing to do for our economy. We know that it is impossible for children who are hungry to concentrate on learning or be healthy enough to regularly attend school. A critical piece of investing in our country’s future is to make sure that children and their families have enough to eat.
It costs more to ignore the problem than it does to solve it. According to a report by the Center for American Progress and Brandeis University, “hunger costs our nation at least $167.5 billion due to the combination of lost economic productivity per year, more expensive public education because of the rising costs of poor education outcomes, avoidable health care costs, and the cost of charity to keep families fed.”
We encourage the House to vote NO on H.R. 5003, and also hope the Senate can address the troubling aspects of this bill when they draft their version.