public-policy article

School Meals Bill Would Improve Children’s Well-Being

January 14, 2020

By Zachary Tashman

The Expanding Access to School Meals Act of 2019 (H.R.5308), introduced by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH-13), would expand the free school lunch and breakfast programs to millions of children. The bill would extend free school meals to all children from households that fall at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL) — $51,500 for a family of four — which account for 37 percent of all households with children under age 18, while simplifying the system as a whole. Currently, only students from homes with incomes at or below 130 percent of the FPL — $33,475 for a family of four — are eligible for free school meals, with students from homes earning at or below 185 percent of the FPL eligible for reduced-price meals.

The bill also would allow states to use Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) participation data to certify students for free school meal programs and increase the community eligibility provision (CEP) reimbursement multiplier from 1.6 to 1.8. These modifications would make it easier to identify students eligible for free school meals and reimburse schools in low-income areas at higher rates when they offer free meals to all students by participating in the CEP. H.R. 5308 has six cosponsors and has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor; a Senate companion bill has not yet been introduced.

Ensuring access to school meals is one of the foundational building blocks in constructing a society in which every child can reach their full potential. Expanding federal school lunch and breakfast programs is critical not only in combating childhood hunger and malnutrition, but enhancing students’ academic and overall cognitive development. There is overwhelming evidence that students who live in households suffering from food insecurity face multiple disadvantages compared to their peers, including being more disengaged in the classroom, suffering from higher levels of anxiety, being absent from school, and getting into physical altercations. According to the Food Research & Action Center, research also shows that “federal nutrition programs reduce food insecurity among school-age children and adolescents.”

The National Assembly strongly supports the Expanding Access to School Meals Act. We thank Rep. Ryan for his leadership on this legislation to ensure every child has the tools they need for success in school.

The National Assembly will continue to closely track this and other bills relevant to the human service sector. For more information from the National Assembly on this bill, and other federal legislation impacting the sector, check out PolicySource or contact Zachary Tashman.