Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05) joined with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) this week to introduce the Universal School Meals Program Act that would provide free breakfast, lunch, and dinner to every student in America.
“In the richest country in the history of the world, when the top one percent are making more than they ever have before, it is simply outrageous than one in five children will go hungry this year,” said Sanders, who’s carrying the bill in the Senate. “Today, I am proud to propose legislation to make sure that no student goes hungry at a public school and to eliminate the stigma surrounding children who receive free or reduced lunch.”
According to a press release from Omar’s office, the bill prohibits public schools that participate in the federal school meal program from denying meals to any student, and reimburses school districts for any meal debt owed by families.
Only students from homes with a household income below 185 percent of the poverty line are currently eligible to enroll in free or reduced-price lunches. That would end under the new bill, which seeks to increase reimbursement rates to $2.72 for breakfast and $3.81 for lunch and dinner.
The bill would reimburse schools for all delinquent meal debt while providing an extra $60 per month per child for families on EBT cards (welfare) to help provide meals during the summer months.
A fact sheet for the bill argues that “no child should be denied a school meal because they can’t afford to pay.”
“As we have seen in recent news reports, children have been publicly shamed for not being able to afford lunch, and as USDA reported, nearly half of all school districts shamed students in the lunch line,” it adds.
Omar’s office said that up to 75 percent of school districts report carrying school lunch debt, which is often collected through “heinous scare tactics.”
The bill also expands the number of “allowable meal services for child care providers to three meals and a snack per day.”
Omar and Sanders believe that teachers could expect to see a decrease in behavioral incidents and suspension rates as a result of their bill.
“There are nearly one in 10 households in Minnesota that struggle with food insecurity, along with millions more across the country. We must find a way to address this crisis,” Omar said in a statement. When our children have empty stomachs, they cannot learn. They have more trouble concentrating. They are more likely to be absent or tardy. Study after study finds that access to meals increases child participation.”
“In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, no child should be turned away from a meal if they cannot afford it,” she added. “I am proud to join Senator Sanders in ensuring that school meals are provided free of cost to all children all year long.”
The bill is cosponsored by Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI-13), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14), and four other Democrats.
Omar announced this week that she’s endorsing Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary, skipping over hometown candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar. In July, she partnered with Sanders to introduce joint legislation that would cancel all $1.6 trillion in student loan debt for 45 million Americans.
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Bernie Sanders” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0. Photo “Ilhan Omar” by Ilhan Omar.