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Congressman Tim Ryan

Representing the 13th District of Ohio

Congressman Tim Ryan Introduces Legislation to Fight Child Hunger

December 5, 2019
Press Release
Legislation expands access to free school meals

Washington, DC –Congressman Ryan today introduced legislation to fight child hunger. The Expanding Access to School Meals Act (H.R.5308) updates and enhances the federal school meals program to give more students access to free lunch and breakfast at school. View the text of the bill here.

“It’s no secret that hungry kids cannot learn. Every day, we hear stories of students who are victims of lunch shaming, too hungry to focus, and of teachers who are forced to use their own paychecks to feed their classrooms. How can we expect our students to succeed in school if they aren’t properly fed? I’m proud to introduce this important legislation to fight child hunger and expand access to free school meals for students in Ohio and across the country,” said Congressman Ryan.

“The Expanding Access to School Meals Act will take important steps to reduce childhood hunger by allowing more vulnerable children to receive free school meals,” said Jim Weill, President, Food Research & Action Center. “FRAC is pleased to support this bill and help ensure that all children get the nutrition they need to learn and thrive in the classroom and beyond.”

"In the face of unprecedented administrative attacks against those who struggle with hunger, we are heartened by this effort to expand free school meals for children who face hunger," said Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. "The inability to pay for school meals has led too often to 'lunch shaming,' damaging and humiliating consequences for school children. Through almost 10 years of combating lunch shaming, we at MAZON have been shocked by the cruel ways that students with school lunch debt are punished in the cafeteria and in other ways throughout the school year. It is truly shameful that some schools and administrators think they can balance their budgets by withholding food from children. We are grateful to Rep. Tim Ryan and others who are seeking real solutions, recognizing that the only certain way to ensure against lunch shaming is to provide vital support to all children who need it."

“Hungry kids struggle to learn. Policy solutions like the Expanding Access to School Meals Act that increase access to nutrition for low-income students will help kids focus on learning instead of their empty stomachs,” said Share Our Strength’s Senior Vice President Lisa Davis. “Every child deserves the opportunity to grow up healthy, educated and strong, and we are thankful to Congressman Ryan for his leadership.”

Research by FRAC shows that hunger negatively impacts students’ performance in all aspects of education. Hungry students struggle to focus, be engaged, and interact with their peers. Students facing food insecurity are more likely to be tardy or absent, which has a great impact on their grades. These challenges affect students for their entire lives. Proper nutrition is essential for students’ success both inside and outside the classroom, and no hungry child should be denied access to a meal.

Unfortunately, research has shown the number of students who are not certified to receive free meals and do not have funds to pay has increased in the past school year. Consequently, school meal debt has also increased. School meal debt has crippled the budgets of some school districts and led to unfair treatment of students who cannot afford to pay for their food. Instances of food shaming and schools providing less-nutritious meals for students who cannot pay are common throughout the country. This bill seeks to address these challenges by eliminating the reduced-price lunch category and increasing the eligibility for free lunches and by taking measures to improve the direct certification using Medicaid and CHIP data. Additionally, the bill increases the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) multiplier to encourage more schools to participate in this program.

The Expanding Access to School Meals Act Includes the Following Provisions:

  • Expands Poverty Threshold for Free Lunches & Breakfasts
    • Students at or below 200 percent of the poverty level would qualify for free lunches and breakfasts.
    • Currently, only children whose families are living below 130 percent of the Federal poverty level (FPL) are eligible for free meals.
  • Eliminates Reduced-Price Lunches
    • Removes this category in order to expand eligibility for free lunches
  • Increases the Community Eligibility Provision Multiplier
    • Changes multiplier from 1.6 to 1.8 percent to provide schools with a greater incentive to participate in this program
  • Direct Certification for Medicaid and CHIP
    • Allows States to use Medicaid and CHIP participation data to directly certify students for free meals (who meet the income threshold).

 

Original Cosponsors Include: Rep. Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Rep. Jahana Hayes (CT-5), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5), and Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (MS-2).