The Trump administration’s proposed rule to redefine SNAP would remove an estimated 3.1 million people from food stamps. It would also, NBC News reports, terminate automatic eligibility for free school meals for more than 500,000 children — a figure that the Department of Agriculture conveniently left out of its formal proposal to overhaul SNAP, according to a letter that Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) sent to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Friday.
Currently, children whose families receive food stamps are automatically eligible for free school breakfast and lunch without having to submit an application. The USDA, which administers SNAP through the Food and Nutrition Service, told Scott’s staff in a call last week that 93 percent of the children affected by the proposed change would still qualify for reduced-price meals.
But, as NBC News reports, anti-poverty advocates say that “families would need to apply individually for assistance, creating paperwork requirements that could lead some qualified children to fall through the cracks, and some families still may not be able to afford the meals, even at a significantly reduced cost.”
School lunch shaming and meal debt have been at the center of a public outcry that has grown louder in recent months. In May, a Rhode Island school district drew national outrage for its plan to deny hot food to students who owe money to the school. More recently, a Pennsylvania school district made headlines for warning parents that their children could end up in foster care if their school lunch debts weren’t repaid. In June, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Mn.) and Sen. Tina Smith (D-Mn.) introduced a bill that would prohibit schools from highlighting or shaming students who are unable to pay for lunch.
“Across this country, students whose families are struggling to afford school meals are being singled out and humiliated at lunchtime,” Omar said in a news conference last month. “We are a nation of tremendous wealth. Hunger in this country is the result of policies that keep wages low and funnel wealth to the top. It is the result of a political system that says it is OK to spend money on tax breaks for millionaires and the same companies who taint our economy, but we can’t afford to fund meals for our kids in the streets.”