Building on P-EBT benefits created in response to the coronavirus, President Biden proposed a vast expansion of the USDA's summer food program on Wednesday that would be available to the 22 million children who eat school meals for free or at a reduced price. The White House also called for expanding a program that provides free school meals to all children in high-poverty neighborhoods.
Congress can remove a roadblock to good nutrition by eliminating the reduced-price category for school lunches and breakfasts, and making the meals free for lower-income children, said the School Nutrition Association on Monday. Roughly 6 percent of lunches and 9 percent of breakfasts served at schools nationwide are sold at reduced prices of 40 cents for lunch and 30 cents for breakfast.
Two weeks ago, the USDA said that up to 982,000 children would lose automatic access to free meals at school under its plan to tighten SNAP eligibility rules. Now a study by the Urban Institute says an additional 1.05 million children would be affected indirectly because they attend schools in low-income areas that serve meals for free to all students.
Nearly 13.6 million students are now receiving free breakfast and lunch through the community eligibility program, a federal initiative that has previously been targeted for cuts by Republicans, according to a new report. That figure is a 14-percent increase in the past year alone.
Although key lawmakers in the House and Senate support an update of U.S. child nutrition programs, headlined by school lunch and WIC, the timeline for those updates is unclear. “If we can’t go forward, we’ll wait,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow on Thursday, in a reference to disputes over school food standards.
About half as many children take part in the school breakfast program as the more than 30 million who eat a hot meal through the school lunch program, according to USDA's most recent data. The government and the anti-hunger group Food Research and Action Center say that participation in school breakfast grew at a slower rate during the 2016-17 school year than it did in previous years.
The school breakfast program, an adjunct to the longer-established school lunch and school milk programs, is reaching a growing number of low-income children — 12.1 million daily during the 2015-16 school year — says a report from an anti-hunger group.
For those trying to read the political tea leaves, there's a connection between a new hire at the White House and congressional action on public nutrition programs. Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, hired as chief of staff Renee Hudson, who held the same job with Indiana Rep. Todd Rokita, said the Washington Post. An advocate of school choice, Rokita was sponsor of the 2016 child nutrition bill that would have slashed a program allowing free meals for all students at schools in poor neighborhoods.
In the first plank of an election-year policy agenda, Speaker Paul Ryan said congressional Republicans "are producing reforms in federal policies that will give states, schools and local providers the flexibility they need to provide children access to healthy meals."