In a world where we’re focusing on SNAP can we also raise our voices for universal free breakfast and lunch programs?
In Pennsylvania, more than 13% of children are said to experience food insecurity, meaning they are unsure where their next meal will come from. These statistics only capture reported numbers, but based on the work we conduct daily and the stigma around food insecurity, it is most likely much higher.
Why does this matter? Because across the nation we are hearing about the impact of SNAP benefits dropping back to pre-2020 amounts, while families still face expensive grocery bills. While we are focusing on SNAP, children of all ages are literally going hungry when we already have a solution at our fingertips.
The answer? Universal school meals.
Currently, Pennsylvania offers free breakfasts to all students whose schools participate in the National School Breakfast Program but that does not include school lunches. 53% of school-age children qualify for free lunch or reduced lunch prices. However, this is still problematic for multiple reasons. The first is that if students are food insecure and only receive a free breakfast they are likely not eating again until the next school day. Secondly, there is stigma associated with “free” or “reduced” meals simply because of the name. When they are just “school meals” there’s no shame in opting in.
We are advocating for free school meals to be expanded to include every child, regardless of income. When we open our programs to all students, we see more engagement and we see the stigma typically associated with food insecurity removed. The best part is that these children learn to advocate for their own needs.
We have the power to cost-effectively reduce childhood hunger locally and nationally by implementing universal free breakfast and lunch programs for all students. We’re asking our friends and neighbors to join us in our fight against hunger by urging local and state representatives to pursue free school meals for all.
Executive Director and Founder of Child Hunger Outreach Partners