Skinner: Congress must fix school-meal program

Congress must fix a flaw in the nation’s school-meal program that leaves many low-income children who live in higher-cost regions ineligible for federal nutrition programs, a state lawmaker and an Olympic swimmer said this morning.

school lunchFederal school nutrition programs now determine eligibility with a single nationwide income level, so many families in high-cost regions are denied access to programs that provide breakfast, lunch and after-school snacks. For example, a family of four in Oakland needs $58,251 to be self-sufficient, but the national standard sets income for a family of four at $42,643.

A similar method applies to the rates at which meals are reimbursed. Whether in California or Alabama, school districts are reimbursed $3.01 for each free lunch served; only Alaska and Hawaii are reimbursed at a higher rate.

At a news conference outside Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue Elementary School, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner said she’s introducing Assembly Joint Resolution 31, urging Congress to incorporate a regional cost-of-living index to qualify low-income families in the free or reduced-price meals program, and to calculate reimbursements to school districts.

“The failure to recognize local costs of living is an issue of equity affecting California’s children, especially those in high-cost regions like the Bay Area,” Skinner, D-Berkeley, said in a news release. “One-size-fits-all does not protect the health and well-being of the California families that face severe economic hardships as they try to put food on the table.”

Skinner was joined at the news conference by U.S. Olympic swimmer Dana Vollmer, who said she understands how crucial school meals are. “It’s critical that we expand access to programs that give children a healthy start to get ahead—physically and academically.”

California is home to four of the top 10 urban areas in the country with the highest cost of living, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research. Within the state, San Francisco ranked as the most expensive place to live followed by San Jose, Orange County and Oakland.

“We have a responsibility to ensure a hungry child living in Oakland is treated with respect and dignity,” Skinner said. “This inequity must be corrected.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Hey Skinner, tell them rich prog palsies of Yrs to open their purses. It ain’t allUncle SAMs pblm!

  • GV Haste

    Question. If the family income is low enough to qualify for the “free lunch” program don’t they already get food stamps?

    If they get food stamps, then they are currently getting up to $4.70 per day for food.

    Isn’t it possible to pack a bag lunch for school with part of that money?
    I know some schools also supply breakfast as well as lunch.
    Does that mean it is leaving $4.70 just for dinner for that child?

    I must be missing the cause of the reported hunger.

    My food budget would slide in under that level if I didn’t count beer and wine.
    I eat very healthy, though I must add I have access via car to my choice of markets to get good prices.

  • Marga

    GV, the answer is “no”. This article says that to qualify for free lunch you have to have an income below $42K, for foodstamps it would be about $30K.

    But let’s be realistic, $4.70 a day to feed a child is very, very, very little money. Kids’ nutritional needs are different than adults. You probably can survive on ramen alone. But kids need milk and fresh fruits & vegetables. All expensive.

  • JohnW

    Getting stingy on school lunches would be penny wise and pound foolish. If a kid is not well-nourished, he or she doesn’t learn. We end up paying for that for the next 70 years.

    At the elementary school where I volunteered as a classroom aide for several years, kids were always showing up at school without a packed lunch or the money for a school lunch. Teachers and volunteers often dug into our own pockets to buy their lunches. It was worth it just to not have a grumpy kid with a growling stomach in class during the afternoon.

  • RR Senile Columnist

    Enlarge, fortify the salad. Lose the pepperoni pizza. (See photo) Source:FLOTUS

  • Dane

    No more free LUNCH
    Im tired of non working folks taking what I have worked for. I /We dont owe them anything. In the event you feel sorry for these people, givethem your money from your checkbook . Not Mine!

  • GV Haste

    Marga, regarding food stamps, you said,

    “But let’s be realistic, $4.70 a day to feed a child is very, very, very little money. Kids’ nutritional needs are different than adults. You probably can survive on ramen alone. But kids need milk and fresh fruits & vegetables. All expensive”

    First of all, I just looked up the average SNAP benefit per person for California for 2012.

    It is $149.05 per month which equals $4.90 per day.

    Now, I’m rather a heath nut. I’m also very active and bike 3 to 4 times a week. My daily average food bill is less than $5.00 per day (with the exception of wine and/or beer of about 1 per day).
    I eat a boat load of fresh vegetables and fruits.
    I eat until completely full.

    I easily eat over 2,000 calories per day.

    I buy the bulk of my calories at Trader Joes, though my fresh veggies, fruits, yams, etc. are purchased at a produce store.

    I never ever eat ramen or other garbage food.
    While I don’t drink milk, I drink TJ’s soy milk as a substitute and I think it is more expensive than regular milk per quart or gallon.

    The idea that adults or children can’t live on $4.90 per day is absurd with two exceptions I can think of.
    Plus a third issue.
    1. They eat one or more of their meals out at a fast food place etc.
    2. They have no transportation and must buy all their food from a local corner or other expensive store.

    The third issue is that the parents are completely uneducated about what is healthy and nutritious (which is a significant probability)

    I dare say that 75% of the adults in San Leandro, where you live, could eat a healthier diet than they currently do, and could do so on $4.90 per day (excluding liquor and not eating out).

  • JohnW


    I can certainly understand your anger at these “non-working” 8 year olds taking what you have worked for.

    Do you have a house with a government-subsidized mortgage? I’m tired of people taking what I have worked for to pay the interest on their McMansions. Is there nobody in your family who has ever accepted an unemployment check? Do you have employer-sponsored health insurance, which is government subsidized? Do you have any family members who have received more from Social Security and Medicare than they ever paid in to the system?

  • RR Senile Columnist

    Where would progs be without poor folks? They love telling em what’s good for em even more than denouncing war,

  • JohnW


    Ah yes, Repubs are the champions of self-reliance and fiscal responsibility and the wise men of national security. And Tea Partiers like to remind us that Abe Lincoln was a Republican.

    Who’s that guy on the GOP A-list for 2016 that’s against intervention, against drones and against surveillance? Stand with Rand.

    ROFL, LMAO etc.