As many as 60,000 Maine children – almost 1 in 4 – live in food insecure households. Fortunately, federal meal programs improve access to healthy food for school-aged children and children in participating child care programs, so they can play, learn and grow. We know that federal meal programs are effective strategies in reducing child hunger and improving academic outcomes, which is why we have some serious concerns about the latest child nutrition bill from the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee.
Despite its misleading title, this new bill includes some truly harmful provisions that would have devastating consequences for many children, families and schools in Maine.
This bill drastically undermines the community eligibility provision, which allows eligible, high-poverty schools to provide breakfast and lunch to all students. This critical provision eliminates administrative burdens on school officials and parents, and removes the stigma that prevents many low-income students from participating in federal meal programs.
Under this new bill, 23 of the 55 Maine schools currently participating in the community eligibility provision will no longer be eligible, putting an unnecessary burden on parents and administrators, all while allowing many eligible children to go hungry.
Verification & Application Process
This bill also increases the application verification process for children and families seeking to participate in the school meal program. Right now, only half of all eligible children are participating in the program. Increasing the verification process only further complicates the application process and imposes more barriers that prevent eligible children from enrolling, especially those who are homeless, migrant, immigrant or have limited English proficiency.
Children in Child Care
Finally, this proposed law removes access to food for children in child care whose parents work long or nontraditional hours to make ends meet. It is critical to ensure that these eligible children who spend long hours in child care continue to have access to nutritious food through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). It keeps our kids healthy, their brains active and parents working.
Too many Maine children go hungry and federal meal programs have been effective in reducing hunger in school age children. Maine children deserve better than the House child nutrition bill and they are counting on us.