In our last post, “The Crisis”, we briefly recapped where the issues lie in our nation’s unpaid meal debt problem. We found that short term solutions like anonymous donations, angel funds, and fundraisers, were only adding to the problem, rather than helping.
Some of the families who can afford to pay for the meals are taking advantage of the generosity of others. Because lunch shaming has garnered national media attention, people all over the US have wanted to help students afford a hot meal. Kind strangers have found ways to donate or raise funds for different schools so that students wouldn’t be turned away from what could be their only meal of the day. In other words – free money.
Now we’re seeing more families who owe unpaid meal debts, which means less of those generous funds are going to the families and students who truly can not afford to pay off those debts. Thus, leaving our schools in a vicious cycle of unpaid debts as we mentioned in part one.
Other Issues – Eligibility Applications
What was intended to be a full proof method to assist low-income families, has been found to be not so full proof afterall. Many families have found themselves in debt due to clerical errors from when their applications were processed. These are families who should have qualified for free/reduced meals, but were denied for a variety of reasons and not notified. It’s not until they’re asked for over $1,000 in unpaid meal debt that they realize their applications were never properly processed.
It’s important to note errors made during this process typically happen when paper applications are being used. It’s easier for parents to miss something when filling out the forms and for admin to overlook something. Making mistakes is human, but no one wants to be responsible for hundreds of dollars because of it. Online applications and application processing software can help reduce these errors.
With the upcoming 2020 elections, many candidates have discussed potential permanent solutions to this issue. This past October, Presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, and House of Representatives Ilhan Omar announced the introduction of the Universal School Meals Program Act.
To briefly summarize, the act would:
- Provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack to all school children
- Put an end to lunch shaming
- Increase the reimbursement rate for school meals
- Provide additional incentives for local food procurement
- Reimburse schools for all delinquent school meal debt
- Provide summer meals to all children and Summer Electronic Benefit Transfers (EBT) to lower-income children
- Strengthen and expand the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
- Empower schools to collect Title I funding information from existing resources
Additionally, SNA’s Policy Statements from 2018 specifically kicks off by stating “SNA supports providing all students free school meals.” They want Congress to preserve the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), so that all students will receive a free meal without an application.
Not to mention, studies show that universal free meals make students better prepared to learn, results in an improved social climate in schools, and reduces financial stress on students and families.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. If it did, your debts would be paid and lunch shaming would have ended ages ago. So what can we do until a permanent solution is set in action?
Check back for part 3 to find out.
What are your thoughts on a solution? We want to hear from you! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts.