More than 500,000 kids could lose their automatic eligibility for free school meals thanks to a Trump administration proposal to cut access to food stamps made last week.
Under the proposed rule, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would no longer provide benefits to as many as 3.1 million recipients solely because they are enrolled in food assistance programs run by the states where they live. But when the policy was announced it did not mention the potential impact on free school lunches, according to a letter from Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
“The effect on school meal eligibility represents an important technical finding that must be made public so stakeholders have the opportunity to comment on all aspects of the rule’s impact,” Scott, the House Education and Labor Committee chairman, said in the letter.
The Trump administration said the proposed rule was designed to eliminate “loopholes” and save money. The move was immediately assailed by anti-poverty advocates including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who called the proposal an “act of staggering callousness.”
“For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” Perdue said in a statement last week.
Schools are required to directly certify children that live in households that participate in SNAP for free breakfast and lunch at public schools, according to the Food Research and Action Center. SNAP participation is also used to determine which schools qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision which allows them to provide free meals to all students in high-poverty areas.
Both of these programs are designed to cut down on additional paperwork and make it easier for kids to get access to meals.
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Scott said USDA officials explained the impact the proposed rule would have on free school meals during a phone briefing, but failed to include that information when the rule was published in the Federal Register.
During the call, officials said that 93 percent of the children affected by the change would qualify for reduced-priced meals, NBC News reported.
He says this violates an executive order that requires the USDA to provide “relevant scientific and technical findings.”
Scott requested that the committee be provided with an accurate number of children who will lose automatic eligibility for free meals and an explanation of why the impact was not included when the rule was published in the Federal Register.
The move comes at a time when so-called school lunch shaming and overdue school meal debt has drawn attention from national media outlets and outrage from parents. A Pennsylvania school district warned that children could end up in foster care if their parents do not pay overdue school lunch bills — but then a local country official took back the threat. A New Hampshire school cafeteria worker was fired in May for allegedly allowing a student who couldn’t pay for lunch to take extra items without charging or recording it for anything.
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