The number of students receiving free or reduced-price school lunches nationwide has hit an all-time high, USA Today is reporting, and Washington is among the states with the highest percentage rise in kids receiving free school meals. This probably isn’t just a result of the recession, but rather because of some good policies the state is following.
This jump in free school meals matches another jump we blogged on last week, and the two are likely related. Last October, Washington upped the eligibility levels for Basic Food (food stamps), which boosted the number of people receiving food stamps. Because Washington automatically signs kids up for free meals when their parents qualify for Basic Food, participation in free school meals grows when food stamp participation grows.
Unfortunately, getting food to hungry children and families costs more than the federal government pays; the rates the federal government pays haven’t kept pace with inflation, leaving Washington and other states struggling just when the recession is increasing demand. .The federal government pays schools $2.57 for every free lunch served, but the School Nutrition Association tells USA Today that it costs schools about $2.92 to serve each meal. This fall, when Congress reauthorizes the Child Nutrition Act, Congress has the opportunity to ease the burden on strapped school districts and ensure that kids are getting served high-quality meals. School lunches are meeting a critical need as families do their best to absorb job losses and cut hours. It’s time for Congress to raise the reimbursement rates to support our schools as they meet this growing need.
School meals play a crucial role in the Children's Alliance's five-year plan to end childhood hunger in Washington. To get connected to the Children’s Alliance effort to improve child nutrition programs, contact Linda Stone, firstname.lastname@example.org.
--by Carolyn McConnell