School lunch

Elementary school students go through the lunch line in the school cafeteria in Paducah, Ky. — Ellen O’Nan/The Paducah Sun via AP

As Americans approach the Thanksgiving holiday it is unfathomable to believe that a million children in the United States could go hungry because of a new proposal by the Trump administration.

In Pennsylvania and in states across the country, hundreds of thousands of students could become ineligible for free school lunches under a new Trump administration proposal that’s expected to reduce the number of people who get food stamps.

Currently children automatically qualify for free lunches if their families receive food stamps, but the Trump administration has proposed tightening eligibility for the program, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is the U.S. government’s largest anti-hunger program and served 40 million in 2018.

Nearly 1 million students nationwide could be affected by the change, according to a recently released analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“SNAP is the first line of defense against hunger and food insecurity for low-income families and children,” said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. “As the ‘Conscious of the Congress,’ the CBC calls on the Trump administration to immediately withdraw the proposal,” said Bass.

“It is alarming that USDA continues to move forward with its SNAP proposal even after releasing data that shows it would cause nearly 1 million students to lose automatic access to free school meals,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, another CBC member. “As the late Congressman Cummings frequently said, ‘Our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see.’ What kind of message are we sending by limiting access to programs essential to student health and success? I join with the Congressional Black Caucus in calling on Secretary Perdue to rescind this cruel proposal immediately.”

According to USDA estimates, over 3 million people, including seniors, veterans, persons with disabilities and working families with children, would be kicked off SNAP under the proposed rule. Nearly 1 million children in affected SNAP households would lose automatic eligibility for free school meals.

Studies show that without adequate nutrition, children often experience the short-term effects of food insecurity, such as stomach aches, headaches and low energy. They also have a difficult time focusing in class or even staying awake during school.

Inadequate nutrition can result in long-term effects in the following areas:

Physical health conditions, like asthma, anemia, obesity and diabetes.

Mental and behavioral health including anxiety, depression, difficulty getting along with peers, substance abuse and even suicidal thoughts.

Cognitive health such as slower learning rates and lower math and reading scores.

As the holiday season approaches, Americans should urge their elected representatives in Congress to act to oppose this cruel proposal and protect our nation’s most vulnerable population: our children.

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