Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Democrats ask USDA to halt food-stamp change that could end free school meals for some children and schools

About 500,000 students nationwide could lose access to free school meals under a Trump administration plan to eliminate people from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

The Agriculture Department proposal would cut an estimated 3 million people from the program who qualify for certain other forms of government aid. "But the impact of the cuts is anticipated to go further: Children in those households could also lose access to free school lunches, since food stamp eligibility is one way students can qualify for the lunches," Moriah Balingit reports for The Washington Post.

Democratic members of the House Committee on Education and Labor published an open letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Tuesday asking him to jettison the rule. They noted that almost one in seven children lived in food-insecure households in 2018 and that food insecurity among children correlates with increased health care costs in the short and long term.

They also said that, with fewer children eligible for SNAP, some high-poverty schools would no longer qualify for the Community Eligibility Program, which allows them to provide free meals to all students regardless of income. Without CEP, many children whose families make just a little too much to qualify for SNAP would be forced to pay for school meals. About a third of eligible schools in rural areas participate in the CEP program, especially in the Southeast.

The letter also protested that, when the rule was published in the Federal Register, its impact analysis didn't assess how it would affect eligibility for free meals. The committee also noted that USDA hasn't given it any information on that, or explained why that it wasn't included, despite requests.

"Brooke Hardison, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department, said the figure was not published because the department only included information about the impact on the food stamp program — not the ripple effects on the school lunch and other programs," Balingit reports. "The comment period for the proposed rule closed Monday, bringing it one step closer to taking effect. Children affected by the change would lose eligibility next school year, but they may still qualify under other criteria."

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