Congress Approves Free Suppers For Poor DC Children

October 9, 2009

A piece of good news in the midst of so much doom and gloom. The just-passed final version of the Fiscal Year 2010 Agriculture Appropriations bill makes the District of Columbia eligible for federally-subsidized suppers for low-income children in after-school programs.

As I wrote awhile ago, D.C. was added to the eligibility list in the bill the House of Representatives passed. But it was dropped in favor of Wisconsin in the bill passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee–maybe, just maybe because the chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Committee represents Wisconsin.

The version the House and Senate agreed to includes both D.C. and Wisconsin, plus Nevada and Connecticut, which was also in the House bill and is, not coincidentally the home state of the chair of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

In view of the politics here, a lot of credit goes to our non-voting representative in the House and to D.C. Hunger Solutions, which worked hard behind the scenes to get the District’s need for free suppers on the radar screen.

What the Director of D.C. Hunger Solutions says is true not only for D.C. families, but for families nationwide. Parents who are working extra-long or non-traditional hours or struggling to get into (or back into) the workforce need extended after-school care for their children. These children need more than a snack, even if their parents have the time and resources to serve a nutritious evening meal at home. And many don’t.

So, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, I hope Congress will go on to consider the unmet needs of poor children in the 37 states that still aren’t eligible for the subsidized supper program.

That’s only part of the unfinished agenda. Congress needs to change the program eligibility requirements because poor children can’t get even a subsidized snack, let alone supper, in an after-school program, except one operated by a school, unless they happen to live in an area where at least 50% of school-age children are poor. That may not be much of a problem in D.C., but it certainly is elsewhere.

And surely Congress should do something about the reimbursement rates too. Hard to see how an after-school program can serve tasty, nutritious suppers when the maximum reimbursement rate is, as for lunches, just $2.85 per meal.


Bring Free Suppers To Poor DC Children

August 8, 2009

I wrote awhile ago about the enormous stress on after-school programs in the District. More children are showing up for these programs hungry because they didn’t have dinner the night before. One more thing to chalk up to the recession.

The best these programs can do is serve more hefty snacks and let children take extras home. Even this is creating big budget pressures because the federal government reimburses at a maximum of $0.74 per snack. And, for sites that aren’t run by public schools, snacks for children over 12 aren’t reimbursed at all.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Under existing legislation, eligible programs in 10 states can get reimbursed for serving suppers. The Fiscal Year 2010 agriculture appropriations bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would add the District to the list.

The companion bill passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee wouldn’t. But the full Senate could add D.C. when the bill comes to the floor.

Those of you who don’t live in D.C. can support this action by e-mailing or calling your Senators. It’s a good step toward expanding the supper program nationwide when the Child Nutrition Act is reauthorized. No comment here on how we D.C. residents lack our own leverage.

The District has made great strides with its after-school nutrition programs. In 2008, they served about 14,650 children–more than five and a half times as many as in 2004. Just think what a difference it would make if even some of these programs could serve all school-age children a healthy evening meal.

Poor Children Need Free Suppers Too

June 4, 2009

A recent Washington Post article highlights a major impact of the recession on children’s well-being–pervasive hunger.

D.C. area after-school programs (probably others too) are becoming emergency food providers because so many children are showing up hungry. Programs that used to serve a light snack are finding they need to provide considerably more to compensate for what children aren’t getting at home.

One Southeast program reports that as many as half its students arrive hungry because, although they got free breakfasts and lunches at school, they didn’t get any dinner the night before. And they’re putting extra sandwiches in their backpacks, suggesting they expect no dinner when they get home.

The need is putting enormous stress on the budgets of the nonprofits that run these programs. They can get reimbursed for snacks through the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program. But the maximum reimbursement is $0.71 per snack–hardly enough to cover the cost of a nourishing meal.

Under the School Lunch Act, as amended, schools in 10 states are reimbursed for the cost of suppers, as well as snacks, if they are in districts where at least 50% of the children come from families with incomes at or below 185% of the federal poverty line. The suppers can be served not only on school days, but also on weekends and during holidays.

Other after-school programs in these 10 states are also eligible for supper reimbursements so long as they have “an educational or enrichment purpose.” The reimbursement rate is the same as for school lunches–currently $2.57.

Senator Debby Stabenow (D-MI) has introduced a bill that would extend this program nationwide. It’s the AFTERschool Meals Act of 2009 (S. 990). The bill currently has four cosponsors. It will need more to get the attention it deserves.

The Food Research and Action Center has posted a letter that all you fortunate folks with Senators can automatically e-mail to get more cosponsors.

We disenfranchised D.C. residents can adapt the letter and send it to Senators of our choice. If I had to pick just two, they’d be Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), who chairs the Agriculture Committee, and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Subcommittee on Nutrition and Food Assistance.

Our support can help ensure that the growing number of hungry children have three balanced, nutritious meals a day–at least, during the school year.

Summer meals are a subject for another posting.