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

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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.”

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.
  • http://www.lunch.com/JSMaresca-Reviews-1-1.html Dr. Joseph S. Maresca

    School lunch programs are needed to ensure that students are well fed so that they can learn. Otherwise; hunger can become an increasing interference factor with student performance. The thing that should be cut from school lunches is junk food. Children should have vegetable based diets with fish, soy and other health products including a daily multi-vitamin. I hope that they’re not cutting the social programs in order to increase the defense budget.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Those kids don’t need food and they don’t need to learn, not nearly so much as Republicans need to save themselves a few tax dollars come April 15th! Who do you think you are, Mr. Lambert, by insinuating that the nutrition and education of kids should EVER take precedent over tax cuts for the wealthy, our precious Job Creators!

    How DARE you!

    I suggest you go to Manhattan and bow before Merrill-Lynch’s brazen bull (you know, the one that looks like a grown-up version of a golden calf), adorn it with offerings of century notes and voter ID laws, and confess your sins to a hedge fund manager!

    The nerve!

  • Kleduz

    It doesn’t matter how much food, healthy or otherwise, you force onto a students lunch plate, if they don’t like/want it they won’t eat it. This results in, at the VERY least and probably much much higher, a 50% waste of food that goes straight into the lunchroom garbage cans. These “free” lunches are not free at all, they are paid for with tax dollars that are taken from working citizens’ paychecks so it can be wasted because it makes someone in Washington feel good to dictate what kind and how much food goes onto each students’ plate. This teaches the students absolutely nothing about healthy food choices, to think about how much food they are hungry enough to actually eat, choosing the foods they WILL eat, and it certainly doesn’t teach them that being insanely wasteful is just plain wrong, especially when the food is being provided as the cost of someone else. And furthermore it doesn’t teach appreciation on any level. It’s a shameful sham and a colossal waste of food, waste of tax payer money, and a wasted opportunity to teach children some important and redeeming qualities about making proper choices in life. Perhaps then these school children would have a chance, with a few redeeming qualities on their side, to grow up and not expect the school (aka fellow citizens) to feed their children for them.