Republicans’ War On Free School Meals
A program for free school meals was enacted last 2020. Congress funded free school meals to children enrolled in public schools as part of pandemic support. The program was successful as it help decrease food insecurity in children.
The sad part is the program expires and Republicans in Congress committed to rolling back food access for low-income families, especially kids, and refused to extend the universal school meals program.
This refusal not only perpetuates income inequality but also stigmatizes children living in or near poverty. Moreover, the means-testing approach employed by opponents of free school meals creates unnecessary bureaucratic burdens for already resource-strapped schools and families.
It involves collecting and tracking individual applications, adding to the administrative complexities of the system. Additionally, the more bureaucracy involved, the more likely it becomes that vulnerable children, such as those in foster care, unstable households, or with disabilities, English language learners, undocumented or mixed-status families, and others, will face barriers in accessing school nutrition.
Lunch-shaming practices and the inability of schools to cover basic supplies, let alone meals, without sufficient state and federal support, are the result of policy choices. Years of right-wing attacks have led to budget cuts and shortages of teachers and staff in public education.
To alleviate this issue of free school meals, public education requires dedicated funding and stronger support. Universal meals ensure that all young learners have access to food at school, remove systemic barriers for those who need it the most, and ease the burden on our schools.
Democratic-led state governments in Vermont, Colorado, Maine, California, New Mexico, and Minnesota have stepped in to fill the void created by conservative intransigence by enacting universal or near-universal food access programs for public school children.
Many other states have introduced similar legislation. However, the poorest states in the country are predominantly under Republican control, necessitating federal intervention to ensure nutrition for the most vulnerable children.
Hope For Free School Meals
Despite the challenges, there is still hope. The bipartisan-supported Keep Kids Fed Act, passed in 2022, allowed some states to extend their free meal programs and provided additional funding for reimbursements.
Polls consistently show broad support for universal school meals, with 74% of voters and 90% of parents favoring the idea. As the reauthorization of the Farm Bill approaches, now is the time to demand full funding for food access programs that have proven successful.
“Free” should not be considered a dirty word. It signifies a healthy economy and a prosperous nation. Tax dollars are better invested in supporting our children, who represent our future, rather than providing an extra $28 billion gift to the Pentagon.
An ideology that prioritizes tax breaks for the wealthy or wasteful defense spending over caring for our communities does not serve the best interests of the nation.