Congress’s failure to address the issue of child hunger and pass legislation reflecting the will of the American people has left the fate of a crucial bill in limbo.
The bill aims to make free school meals a permanent provision for eligible hungry students in the United States
Research has demonstrated the positive impact of such programs on hungry students’ academic performance, and nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults support this initiative. However, despite the urgency of the matter, Congress has yet to act, leaving hungry students in a state of uncertainty.
During the pandemic, approximately 30 million hungry students benefited from waivers ensuring access to free school lunches across the country. Unfortunately, these benefits expired last year, leaving nearly a third of the hungry students who relied on them without a daily meal. Shockingly, the number of hungry students receiving free lunches even dropped below pre-pandemic levels. Consequently, several states have taken it upon themselves to continue funding these programs, with some extending them until the end of the previous school year and others working on long-term solutions.
New legislation known as the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2023 has been introduced in Congress
The proposed act aims to eliminate the bureaucratic obstacles and red tape that hindered access to meals for many children after the expiration of the pandemic-era relief program. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, one of the bill’s sponsors, emphasized the need for congressional action, stating that it is unacceptable for millions of hungry students to go hungry each day, particularly in the wealthiest country in the world. She highlighted that the bill would not only improve the health and strength of families and communities but also combat the stigma often associated with meal programs and keep hungry students in school.
Despite the proven benefits and the efforts of over 80 countries, including the United States, to ensure access to school meals through the School Meals Coalition, Congress has failed to prioritize this issue. Child hunger affects every state, transcending political boundaries. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture operates a summer program that offers free meals to eligible hungry students in 45 states, the impending school year raises concerns about when the next meal will arrive for many hungry students unless Congress takes action. Making free school lunches permanent would be a significant step forward in alleviating the daily suffering experienced by millions of hungry students nationwide, especially considering the limitations placed on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program due to the debt limit agreement. With widespread support from the American public, it is crucial for Congress to overcome any obstacles and address this critical problem affecting hungry students.