Republican budget proposals have included deep cuts to social safety net programs, including those that are aimed at ensuring that needy children have access to nutritional food at school. Last year’s House Republican budget, for instance, would have kicked 280,000 children out of the program, and spending cuts that have been enacted have targeted it too.
Amid those efforts, though, Democratic Rep. Dina Titus (D) is pushing in the opposite direction. School lunch programs provide breakfast and lunch to children when they are in school, but they leave many children without food options on weekends and holidays during the school year. Titus wants to fix that by expanding the program through the Weekends Without Hunger Act, which she introduced last week and rolled out in her Las Vegas district Thursday.
That the Republican budget seeks to cut such programs is a statement of “how out of touch it is with our nation’s needs and priorities,” Titus told ThinkProgress in an email.
“With 50.1 million American living in food insecure households, including 16.7 million children, it is our responsibility to protect programs such as free and reduced school lunches, SNAP, and WIC that these families rely on every day just to get by,” Titus said. “The federal budget is a statement of our national priorities, and providing funding for nutritious meals to ensure that vacation from school does not mean hunger for children is one of my top priorities.”
The legislation is co-sponsored by Reps. Marsha Fudge (D-OH), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Terri Sewell (D-AL) and is one of several efforts to expand child nutrition programs. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin (D) has introduced a bill that would expand those programs to child care centers in an effort to get food to more low-income children.
The Great Recession drove up the number of children living in poverty, adding to the number of children who live without enough food. Nearly 15 percent — more than 17 million in total — American households were food insecure in 2011, meaning they had difficulty providing food at some point in the year. There are 20 million students who benefit from free and reduced lunches at school, and another 10.5 million who are eligible but don’t receive the benefits.
The school lunch program gets food to children during the week, but weekends and holidays create gaps that leave many hungry. “While school meals help keep children healthy and ready to learn during days that school is in session, there is currently no targeted Federal child nutrition program available to provide these children with food during the weekend or extended holidays when they do not have access to school meals,” a release from Titus’ office said when the bill was introduced. “Vacation from school should not mean hunger for children.”