Children eat lunch at Roger Clap Innovation School in Dorchester, Mass. Hunger crises do their greatest damage to those who are already most programming towards childhood obesity: The poor, the elderly, the disabled, and, of course, children. As a result of America’s present hunger crisis, one-fifth of all households with children are classified as food insecure by the U.
3 million children in this country are not getting the food they need. At the same time, food stamp cuts have put extraordinary strain on both public and private anti-hunger programs, to the point where even many food pantries and soup kitchens are unable to meet the basic needs of their clients. The food security safety net is fraying to the breaking point. But there is one notable exception to the overall trend. Even as Congress signs off on billions of dollars in food stamp cuts, the federal government is dramatically expanding its free school meals program.
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Thanks to a 2010 law championed by first lady Michelle Obama, a growing number of schools across the country are offering free meals to all of their students, regardless of whether those students’ parents applied for the program. In the 2012-2013 school year alone, an estimated 2,200 schools fed over one million children by using the new community eligibility option, according to a recent report from the Food Research and Action Center and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Those schools were all concentrated in the six states, plus the District of Columbia, where the program was first launched. FRAC senior policy analyst Madeleine Levin told msnbc that community eligibility had clearly increased the student access to lunch and breakfast in participating schools. Head Start, or live in households which receive certain kinds of federal assistance, such as food stamps. If a school meets that threshold, then it can bypass the whole process by which individual parents apply for their children to receive free meals.
In fact, the school district gets to save on certain administrative costs because they don’t need to process applications for free meals or even hire a cashier. Boston Public Schools became one of the more recent school districts to adopt community eligibility in September 2013. This takes the burden of proof off our low-income families and allows all children, regardless of income, to know healthy meals are waiting for them at school every day. Not everything about the law which made this possible is a win-win, however. The 2010 Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act also raided future food stamp disbursements in order to pay for more nutritious school lunches. Joy Pullman, a research fellow with the conservative Heartland Institute, has criticized the community eligibility program for contributing to obesity. Should public schools offer free meals to all students, regardless of income?