School Meal Bill Could Remove Millions of Low-Income Children from Meal Programs

Published May 18, 2016

WASHINGTON (May 18, 2016)—Today, the House Education and Workforce Committee is expected to pass legislation that could result in millions of low-income children losing their free or reduced price school meals. The House bill would make it harder for schools to qualify for the existing law’s “community eligibility provision,” which allows schools with high poverty rates to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students without requiring them to document individual household incomes, reducing paperwork for school administrators and stigma for children. Raising the bar from requiring schools to prove 40 percent of their students are eligible for meal assistance, to 60 percent, would effectively drop many low-income children from the program.

In addition, the bill would exempt up to three states from federal school meal requirements, including nutrition standards. Together these changes would further disadvantage millions of children, and potentially set them up for a lifetime of ill health.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, between 2001 and 2009 the prevalence of type 2 diabetes (the diet-related form of the disease) in children in the U.S. increased by 30 percent. A study released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) earlier this year found that in counties across the United States, where people have greater access to healthy food, their diabetes rates are lower; this is especially true in communities of color. For many children, school meals provide that access, and may be the only consistently available nutritious meals they eat each day. A 2015 UCS study determined that socioeconomically disadvantaged children eat more fruits and vegetables if they participate in school meal programs.

Below is a statement by Michael Lavender, Washington Representative for the Food and Environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists

“School meal programs work. They help kids eat healthier and address inequity by increasing healthy food access for low-income children and children of color. As the House Education and Workforce Committee considers policies that would prevent millions of children from accessing healthy food, we urge Members to oppose the bill.”