Build Back Better Legislation Open Letter

Project Bread

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Project Bread Supports House Education and Labor Draft on Child Nutrition Provisions for the Concurrent Resolution on the Budget.

 

 

Action Alert

Tell Congress to Build Back Better School Meal Systems

Congress is debating federal legislation that would increase investments to help our country "Build Back Better", and recover from the pandemic. Some provisions are on the chopping block, urge they keep child nutrition investments in the final budget package!

To the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation,

Project Bread, the state’s leading anti-hunger organization strongly supports the nutrition provisions included in the House Committee on Education and Labor draft language released on September 8th as part of S. Con. Res. 14, the Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2022 and urge you and your colleagues in our state’s congressional delegation to lend their full support for these important provisions. These nutrition provisions represent an opportunity to drastically reduce childhood hunger in Massachusetts and beyond.

We estimate that during the COVID-19 pandemic, roughly 1 in 5 households with children in Mass. faced food insecurity with some communities fairing far worse than others.


For example, Black and Latino households with children were twice as likely to face food insecurity than white households with children. Before the pandemic, 1 out of 10 children faced food insecurity, a normal that we cannot and should not return to.

We cannot adequately address childhood hunger without bold investments in the school meals program. Particularly for low-income students, school meals can account for roughly half their daily calories. Unfortunately, barriers such as stigma, paperwork, and cost have resulted in too few households utilizing this important resource. In October 2019, less than half of students who were eligible for free or reduced-price school meals ate both breakfast and lunch. Additionally, Feeding America estimated that in 2019, 26% of children who experienced food insecurity in our state were ineligible for school meals due to household income.

Summer meals may be free of charge, but stigma, lack of awareness, or challenges with transportation to meal locations all contribute to low utilization.

Fortunately, the pandemic provided us a glimpse of how we can best address food insecurity among households with children. Responding to COVID-19, Congress authorized Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) which provided a benefit to replace school meals during remote and hybrid learning and during summer and allowed USDA to grant further flexibilities that brought about temporary universal school meal program nationwide. A school nutrition director from a community perceived as middle class shared her experience of realizing just how many families were facing food insecurity during the pandemic. She shared with our Child Nutrition Outreach Program about a day when they ran out of milk and one mother was reduced to tears. Their family was not eligible for benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Outreach Program by just $38 of income per month. Making school meals for all permanent. or bringing it within reach through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) to more communities, will help protect families in precarious situations whether that be a pandemic, a community crisis, or a household misfortune. These are also families that would benefit from P-EBT such as a family from Haverhill that called our FoodSource Hotline. They were not eligible for SNAP, but because their school district utilized CEP they received P-EBT. Thanks to this benefit they were able to shift household finances to cover the higher electric bill and get a better internet plan while everyone was at home. While the pandemic is unique, every summer households must absorb additional costs when students are out of school.

The problem is exacerbated in the summer as children are out of school, with only 12% of chil-dren eligible for free or reduced meals participating in the Summer Food Service Program in 2019.


It is our strong belief that the best course of action is to make both these programs permanent: free school meals for all during the school year and an out of school time EBT during summer, school closures, and longer breaks.


In the absence of universal school meals, we support the following provisions laid out in the House Committee on Education and Labor’s draft language as a major step in the right direction:

  • Expand the number of schools that would be able to offer free meals to all students through the Community Eligibility Provision. This reform would make more schools eligible by lowering the eligibility threshold from 40 to 25 percent Identified Students and make it more financially viable by increasing the multiplier from 1.6 to 2.5.
  • Give states the option to implement Community Eligibility statewide, allowing all students to receive school breakfast and lunch at no charge. Massachusetts may be eligible to participate in this option.
  • Allow all states to conduct Medicaid direct certification. Children who participate in Medicaid would be certified for free or reduced-price school meals based on their household income. Children who participate in Medicaid and receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, guardianship, or adoption assistance payments, or are in kinship care would be certified for free school meals.
  • Extending Summer EBT nationwide for students who receive free or reduced-price school meals (including those who attend Community Eligibility, Provision 2, or Provision 3 schools). The Act would allow states as well as Indian Tribal organizations that participate in WIC to provide Summer EBT.
  • $500 million for school kitchen equipment grants.
  • $634 million for a Healthy School Meal Incentives demonstration project.

In addition to these provisions, we also support efforts to make the Child Tax Credit permanent. According to the Census Bureau, 70% of Massachusetts households used their first month of CTC payments on food, rent, utilities, or paying down debt with the largest category being food at 36.8%. Combined with the reforms to child nutrition, the CTC offers an opportunity to significantly reduce childhood food insecurity and poverty.

Massachusetts has long been a leader among states. We are proud to call you our partners in addressing these challenges and we urge you to continue to be leaders by ensuring the final budget resolution includes these important nutrition and anti-poverty provisions.

 

Letter sent in full to the MA Congressional Delegation on September 10, 2021: 

Senator Edward Markey
Senator Elizabeth Warren
Representative Jake Auchincloss
Representative Katherine Clark
Representative William Keating
Representative Stephen Lynch
Representative James McGovern
Representative Seth Moulton
Representative Richard Neal
Representative Ayanna Pressley
Representative Lori Trahan

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