It is both disgusting and ironic to learn Congress decided to leave money for free meals out of the recent spending package. Ironic because I’m getting ready to leave to join my Mutual Aid friends for our weekly free food distribution. This has continued since the Black Panthers’ free breakfast program started in Des Moines and other cities across the country, in the 1970’s.
Public schools have been serving all students free meals since the COVID-19 pandemic first disrupted K-12 education. In March 2022, Congress rejected calls to keep up the federal funding required to sustain that practice and left that money out of a US$1.5 trillion spending package that President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11, 2022. We asked food policy expert Marlene Schwartz to explain why free meals make a difference and what will happen next.The Conversation, March 14, 2022
What are the advantages of making school meals free to everyone?
In my view, the biggest advantage to universal school meals is that more students actually eat nutritious school meals. Following the regulations that emerged from the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, the nutritional quality of school meals improved significantly, and a recent study found that schools typically provide the healthiest foods that children eat all day.
The research shows that making school meals free for everyone improves attendance and boosts diet quality. It also decreases the risk of food insecurity and the stigma associated with receiving a free meal. When no one has to pay, the growing problem of school meal debt is also eliminated.
There are important logistical benefits to universal school meals. Families don’t have to fill out any paperwork to establish their eligibility for free or reduced-price meals. And cafeteria staff can focus on serving the meals if they don’t need to track payments.
The office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not immediately respond to reports that he is against funding and extending school nutrition waivers.
Kate Waters, a Department of Agriculture spokeswoman, said Wednesday that the agency is “disappointed” in the lack of action by Congress, but that it will “continue to do everything we can to support leaders running these programs during this difficult time.”
Earlier this week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told The Washington Post that “the failure of Republicans to respond to this means that kids are going to have less on their plates.”School meal programs in ‘financial peril‘ after spending bill snub, advocates say. Temporary changes that allowed schools to keep feeding children during the pandemic are set to expire unless Congress acts. By Erik Ortiz, NBC News, March 9, 2022
What we have is each other. We can and need to take care of each other. We may have limited power on the political stage, a stage they built, but we have the power of numbers.
Those numbers represent unlimited amounts of talents and skills each community can utilize to replace the systems that fail us. The recent past shows us that mutual aid is not only a tool of survival, but also a tool of revolution. The more we take care of each other, the less they can fracture a community with their ways of war.
Ronnie James, Des Moines Mutual Aid