WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced new legislation today to combat childhood hunger in Ohio. Brown’s bill would help more families enroll in the national school lunch program, one of the most important programs designed to alleviate childhood hunger.
“A hungry child cannot learn and grow,” Brown said. “During these challenging economic times, more families are struggling to put food on the table. We have an obligation to connect children with nutrition programs and to ensure they don’t go hungry during the school-year or the summer months.”
More than 700,000 Ohio children receive assistance during the school year through the free or reduced-price school lunch program. A recent USDA report, however, found that up to 14 percent of eligible Ohio students are not enrolled at all. For these students and for many school administrators, the often complicated and redundant application process deters potential enrollment.
Direct certification, a streamlined approach to determining family eligibility, relies on existing data and is utilized to promote broader participation in the national school lunch program. As a result of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act of 2004, all school districts are now required to use direct certification to enroll children from families that qualify for food assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This requirement was effective nationwide for the 2008-09 school year. Children from families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance may also be directly certified.
During the 2007-2008 school year, only five states managed to directly certify 90 percent or more of the students they were required to directly certify, and Ohio ranked last in the nation overall. Only 35 percent of Ohio students whose families already qualify for SNAP are directly certified for the school lunch program.
Brown announced legislation today that would improve and expand access to the school lunch program for needy children, promote direct certification, reduce paperwork and administrative costs, and utilize technology. Specifically the legislation would:
- Improve state performance in enrolling eligible children in school lunch program by setting a performance standard (95 percent of students required to be directly certified for school lunch programs should be reached) and providing incentives to high performance schools;
- Expand access to child nutrition programs by requiring school districts to utilize data from Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to directly certify more students for free school meals; and
- Achieve universal access for high poverty schools by allowing schools or districts serving a high proportion of low-income children to offer free lunches to all students.
In addition to announcing this new legislation, Brown also highlighted the more than 1,000 sites in Ohio that provide food to children during summer months. Brown discussed the importance of the Summer Food Service Program, which was established to provide school-aged children breakfast, lunch, or a snack during the summer months. Ohio’s more than 1,000 summer feeding locations are located at schools, summer camps, park and recreation centers, and churches and community centers. A full list of summer feeding sites can be found on Brown’s Web site. An interactive map is available through the Ohio Department of Education. In addition, a full list of the number of free and reduced school lunches served by county is also available. Brown recently filmed a public service announcement encouraging awareness and participation in Ohio’s summer food assistance program, which is available on his Web site here.
More than 13 million U.S. households are considered to be “food insecure,” meaning that they do not always have enough food to meet the needs of their family members or cannot afford the cost of food. Of the 36.2 million Americans living in “food insecure” households, more than 12 million are children. Households with children are nearly twice as likely to encounter food insecurity and hunger as other households.
Ohio’s ranks the 15th worst in the nation with a food insecurity rate of 12.2 percent.