Senators Announce New Effort to Combat Childhood Hunger

Legislation Supported by Senators Brown, Casey, and Bennet Would Expand Access to the School Lunch Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced new legislation today to combat childhood hunger. The Hunger Free Schools Act, which is cosponsored by Sens. Robert P. Casey (D-PA) and Michael F. Bennet (D-CO), 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.”

“We can’t expect kids to focus on fractions if their stomachs are growling,” Bennet said. “This bill removes barriers to education by making sure kids come to class well-fed and ready to learn.  It will cut expenses and reduce paperwork so that schools can focus on preparing our kids for the future rather than clearing administrative hurdles.”

More than 23 million children received assistance during the 2007 school year through the free or reduced-price school lunch program. A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report, however, found that in 20 states, up to 20 percent of eligible children are not getting enrolled. 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. Sixteen states directly certified 60 percent or fewer of those children.

The Hunger Free Schools Act announced today 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.

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.

***More information on childhood hunger in Ohio can be found here.***

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