Sanders, Omar announce free school meals bill

-The Hagstrom Report

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., on Tuesday announced the introduction of the Universal School Meals Program Act to help provide free breakfast, lunch, and dinner to every student in America.

Currently, only students from homes with incomes below 185% of the poverty line ($47,600 for a family of four) can enroll in free or reduced-price meals at school, Sanders and Omar noted.

“In the richest country in history of the world, when the top 1% are making more than they ever have before, it is simply outrageous that 1 in 5 children will go hungry this year,” said Sanders.

“Today, I am proud to propose legislation to make sure that no student goes hungry at a public school and to eliminate the stigma surrounding children who receive free or reduced lunch.”

“There are nearly one in 10 households in Minnesota that struggle with food insecurity, along with millions more across the country,” said Omar.

“We must find a way to address this crisis. When our children have empty stomachs, they cannot learn. They have more trouble concentrating.They are more likely to be absent or tardy. Study after study finds that access to meals increases child participation.”

Amidst concern that some schools are “shaming” students whose parents have not paid their school meal bills, the legislation prohibits schools that participate in the federal school meal program from denying meals to students, and reimburses districts for any meal debt owed by families.

According to Sanders and Omar, the bill will:

▪ Prohibit schools participating in the school lunch program from denying any child a prepared hot lunch or breakfast;

▪ Increase reimbursement rates in line with USDA’s estimated cost of producing meals to $2.72 for breakfast and $3.81 for lunch and dinner;

▪ Create a 30 cents-per-lunch incentive for schools that procure 30% of their food from local sources;

▪ Reimburse schools for all of their delinquent meal debt and stop the harassment of parents and students;

▪ Provide an additional $60 per month per child on electronic benefit cards to help families in need purchase food during the summer months;

▪ Eliminate the two-tiered reimbursement rate for the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and allow child care providers to receive the highest reimbursement rate regardless of income;

▪ Empower schools to collect Title I funding information from existing resources and without putting the burden on individual families to report their income.

The legislation is cosponsored by Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Minn., Gwen Moore, D-Wis., André Carson, D-Ind., Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., Deb Haaland, D-N.M., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

The bill is endorsed by:

▪ Food Research and Action Center

▪ National Education Association

▪ Hunger Free Vermont

▪ Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont

▪ Social Security Work

▪ Hmong American Farmers Association

▪ Progressive Democrats of America

▪ Progress America

▪ Other 98%

▪ Hunger Solutions Minnesota

▪ Appetite For Change

▪ Pillsbury United Communities

▪ The Food Group

▪ The Good Acre

▪ Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid

▪ Rural Vermont

▪ Feeding America

▪ Democratic Socialists of America

▪ Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

▪ Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy