Attack on Summer Meals for Kids?
Last summer Wisconsin served 2.8 million free and reduced price meals. Proposed bill would slash program.
Summer is almost here, and children will be out of school – but many of them will still have access to free or reduced-price meals through a program that helps students get their nutritional needs met during the summer months.
Students participating in summer school, summer camps, sports or pre-college programs run by colleges or universities, and certain other summer activities can get free or reduced-price school meals thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program. During summer 2015, Wisconsin children were served 2.8 million free or reduced-price meals at 872 different locations.
Free and reduced-price school meals are an important way to help make sure that all students have the nourishment they need in order to succeed, regardless of family income. It’s difficult for students to reach their full potential if they have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. Making sure that students get the meals they need during the summer helps facilitate summer learning and also helps make sure that students come back in the fall ready to study.
In Wisconsin, just under half of K-12 students have family incomes that make them eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. A family of four with an income of less than $45,000 would be eligible to receive subsidized meals. Free or low-cost school meal costs keep food expenses down for families with low incomes, and help them make ends meet.
Despite the importance of free and reduced-price school lunches to students, some lawmakers in Congress are seeking to restrict the ability of high-poverty schools to provide free meals for all students. A recent blog post by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains:
“A bill from Rep. Todd Rokita, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, would substantially scale back an option that lets high-poverty schools offer meals at no charge to all students without processing applications or tracking eligibility in the lunch line…. Known as community eligibility, the option has been extremely popular with educators, parents, and children. More than 18,000 schools serving more than 8.5 million students adopted it this year. More than 7,000 of those schools might have to reinstate cumbersome paperwork under the Rokita bill, which would severely curtail schools’ eligibility for the option.”
Free and reduced-priced school meals are an important tool to help make sure students are ready to learn, both during the summer and the school year. We should be working to make it easier for students from families with low incomes get the food assistance for which they are eligible, rather than putting up roadblocks in the way of schools and other organizations providing the meals.