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.
Federal 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.”