The school lunch program is an increasingly important source of nutrition for low income children. In 2007-2008, 32,000 District children received free or reduced lunches each day and 16,000 received breakfast. Thanks to recent legislation, the federal government will fund evening meals for low-income children as well. The demand on these programs has likely increased with the recession.
Despite the high rate of participation in free and reduced lunch programs, hunger remains a problem in the District. Nineteen percent of the District’s population participates in the Food Stamp program, yet a recent study found that one-in-four families with children had trouble securing adequate nutrition.
When it snows and schools are closed, this important source of food is cut off. What happens to the children and their families who are already at risk from hunger when a week goes by and the breakfasts and lunches that they rely on are not available?
Despite all the criticism that the school lunch program receives – poor nutritional quality, inadequate funding, over-use of processed foods – it is an essential tool to make certain that children are fed. But the storms last week show that there needs to be a strategy to ensure that there is more food in the home as well.
The District Council has already mandated that the Food Stamp program be expanded to serve people whose incomes are at or below 200% of poverty (up from 133%), but the Department of Human Services is dragging its heels. An increase to the embarrassing low TANF payment would also assist families to have greater nutritional security. Currently, a family that receives both TANF and Food Stamps survives at just 50% of the federal poverty level.