Free or Reduced lunching federal aid program assists low income families to help feed their children

Cameron Mathews, Sports Editor

After grabbing a lunch tray and filling it with the options for the day, typing in her student ID and waiting patiently in line, a Fenton student is told that they aren’t able to purchase the hot meal due to the inability to pay. Instead, they are offered the free option for lunch, a bare-bones “alternative meal” that consists of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or cheese and crackers.

One option for students unable to afford the cost of school breakfast or lunch is the Federal School Lunch Program. This program allows low income families to apply for federal financial aid that supports their students by providing them with breakfast and/or lunch at a free or reduced rate.

What this means for students who are put into this position is that when they are in school, they can get their breakfast and lunch at a free or reduced cost; for breakfast, the reduced cost is 30 cents and for lunch, the reduced cost is 40 cents, rather than paying $1.50 for breakfast and $3.25 for lunch. With the resource of free or reduced lunch, families are able to save a total of 855 dollars per school year.

As of 2015, the total population in Michigan was about 9.9 million; 2.2 million of those people were students under the age 18 in public schools. Of those students, about 680,000 qualified for this program to have free and reduced lunch. This number represents nearly one-third of the population that is living in poverty or near poverty. During the same year, FHS’ population was 1,149, and about 25 percent of the populous qualified for the program.

Children from families with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced‐price meals, for which students can be charged no more than 40 cents for lunch. According to the National School Lunch Program website 130 percent of the poverty level is $30,615 for a family of four; 185 percent is $43,568 .

However, certain members of the Michigan House of Representatives wish to implement a bill that would take away free or reduced lunch. The “Improving Child Nutrition And Education Act” was introduced into the House of Representatives for Michigan on April 20, 2016. This bill includes a provision that would severely restrict schools’ eligibility for community eligibility, an option within the national school lunch and breakfast programs allowing high-poverty schools to provide meals at no charge to all students. If this bill becomes law, 7,022 schools now using community eligibility to simplify their meal programs and improve access for low-income students would have to reinstall applications and return to monitoring eligibility in the lunch line within two years. These schools serve nearly 3.4 million students. Another 11,647 schools that qualify for community eligibility but have not yet adopted it could lose eligibility.

The removal of the free or reduced lunch program could have serious negative effects on students. A study conducted by the US National Library of Medicine and Institutes of Health found that students who go 24 hours or more without eating are 44 percent more likely to lose focus during class time compared to other students who have eaten. It’s the little things like this that makes the free or reduced lunch program so beneficial for students of all ages in low income households.

Passing this bill would harm these students by taking away one of the only resources they have to get breakfast or lunch during the school year. For some students, school provided breakfast and lunch is the only nutrition that they receive during the day. This bill cannot be passed, contact legislator Joseph Graves via email [email protected] to voice your opposition of the bill, H.R. 5003.