Week 20: Protect school lunches from federal budget cuts

It's National School Lunch Week! 21.6 million low-income kids receive free or reduce price school meals in 2015-16

Last week, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget resolution that, if approved by the U.S. Senate, would increase hunger for many millions of families across Pennsylvania and the country.

This budget makes huge spending cuts to programs for low-income and middle-class families in order to pay for their upcoming “tax reform” plan of massive giveaways for wealthy individuals and corporations. [Local U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-12th) voted for the budget resolution. The soon-to-be-former U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-18th) and U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-14th) did not vote.] [Local U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-12th) voted for this resolution. The soon-to-be-former U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-18th) and U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-14th) did not vote.]

Besides making a host of huge cuts to basic investments in our communities, this new budget would also drastically cut the number of schools eligible to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision. CEP is a federal option put in place by the Obama administration for moderate- and high-poverty schools. It helps them pay for free school meals for all of their students.

The new budget proposal’s cuts to CEP would affect schools that have a poverty rate of 40-60%. That’s more than 8,000 schools enrolling close to 3.8 million children; it’s nearly half of the 20,000 schools currently participating in CEP. Right here in Allegheny County, 39 schools would lose their eligibility to provide federally-funded school meals to all their students.

Cutting this important and effective program means each student’s family, even if already deemed eligible for government assistance programs, would have to submit proof of income in order to apply for free or reduced-price meals.

This would:

  • add unnecessary hardship and expense for low-income families, likely decreasing access to nutrition for their children;
  • stigmatize the students who can’t afford school meals;
  • reintroduce unnecessary paperwork and administrative costs for these under-resourced schools; and
  • divert time and resources away from supporting learning.

Our federal government can easily cover the costs of school meals for those who can’t afford it. In fact, school meals should be free for ALL students in ALL schools — school lunch plays as critical a role in education outcomes and child health as gym equipment and even textbooks.

There’s just no good reason to deprive our kids of food.

HOW YOU CAN TAKE ACTION

1. Let your elected officials know where you stand on protecting our children from hunger. Look up your federal legislators here. Then write and call to tell them, “Hands off school meals! Don’t slash the Community Eligibility Provision just to give more tax cuts to the 1%!” Check out this FRAC fact sheet on the Community Eligibility Provision for more good info to share with your legislator and your community.

2. Spread the word. Nearly everyone has school-aged children (or grandchildren), or has family, friends, or coworkers with kids in school. Let them know what’s going on and ask them to join this effort. (Use the share buttons below.)

3. Tell your elected officials in person why you support free school meals. Do you want to join a delegation of concerned citizens to ask your representative to truly represent your community’s needs? Email our grassroots organizer, Helen Gerhardt, at heleng@justharvest.org, or fill out this form and she’ll contact you.

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