We need policies that move families out of poverty and immediate pandemic relief that feeds our children. Yet, U.S. Senators Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton just unveiled a minimum wage hike plan that actually divides working families and disregards the well-being of children.
For the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has taken over our lives, crushing our economy and highlighting much of the disparity that exists in our country. In fact, no one can deny the outrageous levels of food insecurity we are facing in our nation. Despite the number of Americans reporting that they never faced food insecurity or used a food pantry prior to 2020, a record number of people are lining up now to receive donations from food banks and pantries. Yet we have not heard enough stories of how some of our local school districts are working to combat food insecurity in our children.
Our kids cannot learn when they are hungry. To face this, K-12 school aged students are being fed for free or by reduced lunch by their local school districts only because the American people demanded the federal government take this vital action. Prior to the pandemic, I felt the former administration was on track to single handedly undo all the progress made by the Obama administration – school food nutrition top on the dismantle or abolish list. Yet when the pandemic forced kids literally out of school buildings, and people realized school aged children were starving at home, the Trump administration had no choice. In October 2020, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, announced the extension of free lunches for all to last through the remainder of the 20-21 school year.
As a mother of four, with two school aged children, I have had lengthy discussions about how much my teenage children eat and the difficulty with keeping up with feeding them. So despite just narrowly not being eligible for free or reduced lunch at our local school district, I was so thankful and relieved to learn that my children’s school were not only providing meals during the pandemic but that the meals were free for all. Yes, you heard me. Some school districts are providing breakfast and lunch for free for the days/times school aged children would normally be in school.
Additionally in New York state where I live, $880 million was distributed in Temporary Food Assistance by way of additional SNAP resources via P-EBT benefits, if children were eligible and receiving free or reduced lunch during the academic year. Districts can apply for Universal CEP which according to The U.S.D.A. Food and Nutrition Service is a non pricing meal service option for schools and school districts in low income areas.
Nearby in the rest of the Tri State area and neighboring states like New Jersey , Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware similar programs are taking place feeding students. In neighboring Maryland, Montgomery County Public Schools has provided free breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks to all children younger than 18 and public school students of any age. In september 2020 the district started a triple meal service program on Friday to feed students over the weekend when school was not in session.
The good news is that the Biden administration has been quick to act with regard to increased funding for food insecurity for children. Last month the President signed an executive order that gives an additional 15% in benefits to families who already qualify for free or reduced meals from school.
The larger issue is that our kids are going hungry in the most powerful country in the world. Policy plans like the ones introduced by Romney and Cotton don’t protect American families. To the contrary, they crush american families, particularly children. We need pandemic relief that meets the moment. If we want to put an end to this public health and economic crisis, Congress must send trillions of dollars out the door as soon as humanly possible and a substantial amount of that money needs to go directly to families so moms and dads can feed their little ones. To address food insecurity, Biden must ensure Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Care Tax Credits are fully refundable with significant increases that reach families with low income and must also work so no one in America earns less than a living wage.