For decades, free and reduced priced school meals have been a source of healthy food for low-income kids. Last school year, over a million New York children qualified for free or reduced meals. WSKG's Sarah Gager and Gabe Altieri discuss a bill currently in Congress that could change how schools feed students. It’s a bill that reauthorizes the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act has been up for reauthorization since last year. Currently, it's running in the format that passed in 2012 while lawmakers work out an updated version. There are two different versions in the House and Senate.
How are they different?
One big difference has to do with a reimbursement plan for students’ meals. Currently, school districts where 40% or more of their students qualify for other assistance programs can apply to receive free meals for all the students at the schools. The money they get back is based on a formula. The school itself makes up the rest. Applying for reimbursement under this law means schools can give every student a meal.
The House version raises the minimum requirement from 40% to 60%.
Who would that affect?
According to a report released last year by the anti-hunger group, Hunger Solutions NY, more than 400 schools statewide would lose eligibility. The schools affected would be those that qualify under the provision now and don't under the new House version.
Why don't schools offer meals only to kids who need them?
Sherry Tomasky, Hunger Solutions NY, said the provision is helpful to families who can’t complete their applications for whatever reason or those who just miss the upper income limit. There’s also a stigma around collecting free food. When you have this reimbursement, kids all go through the same line and are just given a meal. There’s nothing that singles a student out.
The provision also provides some financial stability for schools.
If nothing is sorted out before the end of the year, we will have another year at the 40% minimum, and bills will need to be reintroduced come January.